Commentary Magazine


Topic: Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Blair vs. Obama

In a world of moral equivalence, political correctness, and intentional obtuseness, Tony Blair stands apart. He has quickly become the most cogent and articulate defender of the West in the war against Islamic terror.

In his new book, he begins with an eloquent tribute, practically a love letter, to America. His first sentence: “America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be.” He of course is speaking of other nations and the truism that “powerful nations aren’t loved.” But that doesn’t pertain to Blair himself, and he is candid about his affection for America. He acknowledges that Americans are accused of being “brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed,” but that’s not the America Blair is so fond of:

America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

The nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. The ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

It is a remarkable description, Reagan-esque to be sure, of what America is about. And, to be blunt, it is all the more remarkable because our current president is not only averse to such lavish praise (triumphalism annoys him, you see) but also lacks, as a reader pointed out to me, the belief in an American exceptionalism that a former British prime minister grasps so clearly. Read More

In a world of moral equivalence, political correctness, and intentional obtuseness, Tony Blair stands apart. He has quickly become the most cogent and articulate defender of the West in the war against Islamic terror.

In his new book, he begins with an eloquent tribute, practically a love letter, to America. His first sentence: “America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be.” He of course is speaking of other nations and the truism that “powerful nations aren’t loved.” But that doesn’t pertain to Blair himself, and he is candid about his affection for America. He acknowledges that Americans are accused of being “brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed,” but that’s not the America Blair is so fond of:

America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

The nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. The ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

It is a remarkable description, Reagan-esque to be sure, of what America is about. And, to be blunt, it is all the more remarkable because our current president is not only averse to such lavish praise (triumphalism annoys him, you see) but also lacks, as a reader pointed out to me, the belief in an American exceptionalism that a former British prime minister grasps so clearly.

I would also suggest that it is that moral clarity on Blair’s part and confusion on Obama’s that account for the starkly different visions of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. For Obama, it simply doesn’t exist, or it’s not polite to point it out. He is determined to avert his eyes — and insist we do as well — in a bizarre effort to deflect potential criticism that we are at war with an entire religion. That George W. Bush managed to explain the nature of our enemy (and articulate the stakes for American civilization) and that Obama’s excising of “radical jihadism” from our official vocabulary actually undermines moderate Muslims are lost on the president. He, in sum, neither appreciates the country he leads nor the seriousness of the enemy we face.

A case in point occurred this week:

In a speech in New York, the former prime minister said that warnings over the past week of terrorist plots against Europe should remind people that they remained under threat.

Mr Blair said a “narrative” that Muslims were under attack from the US and its allies, who acted out of support for Israel, had been allowed to take hold, aided by “websites and blogs.”

A fresh confrontation was needed because it would be impossible to defeat extremism “without defeating the narrative that nurtures it”, he said.

“The practitioners of extremism are small in number. The adherents of the narrative stretch far broader into parts of mainstream thinking,” Mr Blair told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It is a narrative that now has vast numbers of assembled websites, blogs and organisations.”

Blair was candid in his critique of Obama:

Mr Blair said a tendency to “sympathise” with extremism was not only dangerous but also disempowering for moderate Muslims, because it made people resent them as much as extremists.

He said he was “intrigued” by the fact that Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, felt the need to condemn Terry Jones, a pastor who threatened to burn a Koran.

“Suppose an imam, with 30 followers, in Karachi was to burn a Bible,” he said. “I can barely imagine a murmur of protest. It wouldn’t be necessary for the president of Pakistan to condemn it because no one here would remotely consider he supported it.”

He was also emphatic on the subject of Iran:

Mr Blair also called on the West to make it “crystal clear” to Iran that its acquisition of a nuclear bomb would be unacceptable to the “civilised world.”

“Go and read the speech of Iran’s president to the United Nations just days ago here in New York, and tell me that is someone you want with a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Compare Blair on the European bombings to Obama. You say you don’t recall what Obama said? Don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything — he was silent, as he is wont to be when inconvenient facts disturb the narrative he has created. Blair was not quite bold enough to say it, but it is not simply blogs, websites, and organizations that are distorting the West’s perception of radical Islam; it is the American president, too.

And finally, consider the contrast between Blair and Obama on Iran. Obama has given up using even the platitudinous crutches (“unacceptable” and “all options remain on the table”) that gave some wishful observers hope that he would take military action if needed to stop Iran from going nuclear. But Obama never seems to put the pieces together — the rhetoric of Iran, the conduct of Iran, the prospect of an even more aggressive revolutionary Islamic state. Perhaps if Obama had a better conception of the country he leads and of the enemy we face, his foreign policy would be both more coherent and more effective.

We’re going to begin the 2012 presidential race before long. Conservatives who regard Obama’s vision and foreign policy failings with a mixture of horror and disdain should keep their eye out for an American Tony Blair. Let’s pray there is one, or a least a faint imitation.

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In the Middle East, They Mean What They Say

Jackson Diehl takes a look at the ongoing peace talks: Bibi is talking peace and compromise (Netanyahu “spent the past week talking up a ‘historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors’ and promising ‘to embrace original thinking’ to achieve it, even as ministers of his own cabinet loudly proclaim their opposition”). Meanwhile, Abbas is acting, well, like the Palestinians have acted for the past 60 years. When presented with the basic requirements of a peace deal (“Israel is recognized as ‘the national state of the Jewish people’ and that a stringent security regime ensures that ‘there will be no repetition of what occurred after we left Lebanon and Gaza'”), Abbas makes clear that the PA’s mindset hasn’t changed at all:

[I]t’s worth noting that Abbas, following his first extended private conversation with Netanyahu in Washington, spent the subsequent days giving interviews to Arab media in which he publicly rejected each of those terms. Palestinians, he said, will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they will not allow Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank. In fact, if he’s pressured to make any concessions, he told the al-Quds newspaper, “I’ll grab my briefcase and leave.”

Palestinian partisans rush to explain: Abbas says such things only because he is under terrible domestic pressure, not only from Hamas but from the Palestinian “street.” But is he? A study of recent Palestinian opinion polls by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed out that 60 percent of Palestinians will accept “mutual recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people.” Half say they could tolerate an interim Israeli presence on the Jordanian border “for reasons of security.”

No wonder Obama was telling the rabbis to ignore the parties’ public statements, for if they focused on what Bibi and Abbas were saying, it would become apparent that Obama has done nothing to alter the dynamic that has prevented a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years. Israel wants a deal; the Palestinians don’t have the will or the ability to make one. If Abbas really did share the yearning for a peace deal, he’d be preparing his side for compromise, not stoking the flames of rejectionism that has kept his side stateless these many decades.

In fact, it’s arguable that Obama has made things much worse. He’s emphasized the settlements — the PA’s favorite excuse for rejecting a deal — and given the PA the impression that this and perhaps other concessions can be extracted from Israel without corresponding moves by the Palestinians. So once again, he is doing the PA’s bidding, publicly turning the screws on Israel on settlements, while ignoring Abbas’s obvious disdain for a workable peace agreement.

Contrary to Obama’s advice, I think it’s time we started taking everyone in the Middle East at their word. Israel wants a deal, will defend itself against the Iranian threat, and isn’t going to continue to dole out unilateral concessions. The Palestinians can’t agree to the essential elements of a peace deal. Iran wants to dominate the region and wipe Israel off the map. Once the administration takes the Middle East players and their motives at face value, there might be a chance to construct an effective and reality-based foreign strategy. But not before.

Jackson Diehl takes a look at the ongoing peace talks: Bibi is talking peace and compromise (Netanyahu “spent the past week talking up a ‘historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors’ and promising ‘to embrace original thinking’ to achieve it, even as ministers of his own cabinet loudly proclaim their opposition”). Meanwhile, Abbas is acting, well, like the Palestinians have acted for the past 60 years. When presented with the basic requirements of a peace deal (“Israel is recognized as ‘the national state of the Jewish people’ and that a stringent security regime ensures that ‘there will be no repetition of what occurred after we left Lebanon and Gaza'”), Abbas makes clear that the PA’s mindset hasn’t changed at all:

[I]t’s worth noting that Abbas, following his first extended private conversation with Netanyahu in Washington, spent the subsequent days giving interviews to Arab media in which he publicly rejected each of those terms. Palestinians, he said, will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they will not allow Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank. In fact, if he’s pressured to make any concessions, he told the al-Quds newspaper, “I’ll grab my briefcase and leave.”

Palestinian partisans rush to explain: Abbas says such things only because he is under terrible domestic pressure, not only from Hamas but from the Palestinian “street.” But is he? A study of recent Palestinian opinion polls by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed out that 60 percent of Palestinians will accept “mutual recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people.” Half say they could tolerate an interim Israeli presence on the Jordanian border “for reasons of security.”

No wonder Obama was telling the rabbis to ignore the parties’ public statements, for if they focused on what Bibi and Abbas were saying, it would become apparent that Obama has done nothing to alter the dynamic that has prevented a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years. Israel wants a deal; the Palestinians don’t have the will or the ability to make one. If Abbas really did share the yearning for a peace deal, he’d be preparing his side for compromise, not stoking the flames of rejectionism that has kept his side stateless these many decades.

In fact, it’s arguable that Obama has made things much worse. He’s emphasized the settlements — the PA’s favorite excuse for rejecting a deal — and given the PA the impression that this and perhaps other concessions can be extracted from Israel without corresponding moves by the Palestinians. So once again, he is doing the PA’s bidding, publicly turning the screws on Israel on settlements, while ignoring Abbas’s obvious disdain for a workable peace agreement.

Contrary to Obama’s advice, I think it’s time we started taking everyone in the Middle East at their word. Israel wants a deal, will defend itself against the Iranian threat, and isn’t going to continue to dole out unilateral concessions. The Palestinians can’t agree to the essential elements of a peace deal. Iran wants to dominate the region and wipe Israel off the map. Once the administration takes the Middle East players and their motives at face value, there might be a chance to construct an effective and reality-based foreign strategy. But not before.

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RE: Frolicking with Despots

OK, not every Democrat is enamored of Obama’s Syrian engagement and technology jaunt:

One House Democratic staffer, briefed in advance of the trip by representatives from the State Department Near East Affairs bureau, called it “f***ing idiotic.”

The staffer said State people briefing congressional staff on the trip said, “we are going to infiltrate them (Syria) with technology without them even knowing it.”

“It’s a stupid thing to do,” he said. “Because they are so enamored of their own brilliance. It’s ridiculous. They don’t know what they are doing if they think they are going to subvert the Syrian government with technology and Syria won’t even notice.”

And not every foreign policy guru is shy about blasting the administration:

The administration thinks “they can make Assad like Gorbachev,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s David Schenker said. “They think they are going to have some level of opening [in Syria] with the Internet.”

But “everything that the administration has dangled in front of the Syrians so far has not worked,” Schenker continued. “So now they are sweetening the pot. … The Obama administration has been trying to think creatively. They think that this is a key. They have given a whole number of things to Syria,” including airplane spare parts and lifting U.S. opposition to Syria applying for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Unfortunately, a different mentality pervades this administration, and there is no congressional majority willing to exercise the power of the purse to put a stop to this nonsense.

OK, not every Democrat is enamored of Obama’s Syrian engagement and technology jaunt:

One House Democratic staffer, briefed in advance of the trip by representatives from the State Department Near East Affairs bureau, called it “f***ing idiotic.”

The staffer said State people briefing congressional staff on the trip said, “we are going to infiltrate them (Syria) with technology without them even knowing it.”

“It’s a stupid thing to do,” he said. “Because they are so enamored of their own brilliance. It’s ridiculous. They don’t know what they are doing if they think they are going to subvert the Syrian government with technology and Syria won’t even notice.”

And not every foreign policy guru is shy about blasting the administration:

The administration thinks “they can make Assad like Gorbachev,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s David Schenker said. “They think they are going to have some level of opening [in Syria] with the Internet.”

But “everything that the administration has dangled in front of the Syrians so far has not worked,” Schenker continued. “So now they are sweetening the pot. … The Obama administration has been trying to think creatively. They think that this is a key. They have given a whole number of things to Syria,” including airplane spare parts and lifting U.S. opposition to Syria applying for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Unfortunately, a different mentality pervades this administration, and there is no congressional majority willing to exercise the power of the purse to put a stop to this nonsense.

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The Purpose of the Proximity Talks

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

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Huffington Post Takes Down the Leveretts

I usually don’t tout Huffington Post columns, but a not-to-be missed one by Omid Memarian should be read in full. Bit by bit, Memarian chips away at the facade of intellectual credibility that Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the mullahs’ favorite mouthpieces, have erected. He begins with this:

The list of foreigners who unconditionally support the Islamic Republic of Iran is short but not unexpected: Omar Albashir of Sudan, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Khalid Mashal of Hamas, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela might be at the top. Add to this list an unlikely duo: Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett. Notwithstanding over two decades of collective experience working for organizations and entities like the CIA, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the National Security Council, the Leveretts are today America’s most prominent, and abrasive, defenders of the Iranian regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though they cloak their analysis in the guise of strategic thinking and anti-war diplomacy, their writings betray a dangerous lack of understanding of Iran’s internal realities as well as an almost bigoted contempt for the Iranian people.

The particulars of the Leveretts’ misinformation campaign on behalf of the Iranian regime are then laid out in great detail. Well, it’s about time. Others have done an ample job debunking the couple, as do the Leveretts’ own words. But with this, Memarian delivers the knockout blow to the mullahs’ shills.

I usually don’t tout Huffington Post columns, but a not-to-be missed one by Omid Memarian should be read in full. Bit by bit, Memarian chips away at the facade of intellectual credibility that Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the mullahs’ favorite mouthpieces, have erected. He begins with this:

The list of foreigners who unconditionally support the Islamic Republic of Iran is short but not unexpected: Omar Albashir of Sudan, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Khalid Mashal of Hamas, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela might be at the top. Add to this list an unlikely duo: Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett. Notwithstanding over two decades of collective experience working for organizations and entities like the CIA, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the National Security Council, the Leveretts are today America’s most prominent, and abrasive, defenders of the Iranian regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though they cloak their analysis in the guise of strategic thinking and anti-war diplomacy, their writings betray a dangerous lack of understanding of Iran’s internal realities as well as an almost bigoted contempt for the Iranian people.

The particulars of the Leveretts’ misinformation campaign on behalf of the Iranian regime are then laid out in great detail. Well, it’s about time. Others have done an ample job debunking the couple, as do the Leveretts’ own words. But with this, Memarian delivers the knockout blow to the mullahs’ shills.

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James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.'”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.'”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

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The Green Movement: A Work in Progress

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

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You Don’t Have to Be a Harvard Think Tank

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding —

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding —

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

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Threatening Israel Isn’t Enough Anymore

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did. Read More

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did.

(Intriguingly, a clear majority of Saudis interviewed in the same survey think their own terrorism and religious extremism is more troubling than either Iran or Israel. There may be hope, at least in the long run, for that region yet.)

Iran’s rulers constantly threaten Israel with violence and even destruction because they know the Arabs are against them. They need to change the subject to something they all can agree on. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 and voided Iran’s treaty with Israel, regime leaders have believed they’ll meet less resistance while amassing power for themselves in the region by saying, Hey, we’re not after you, we’re after the Jews.

It isn’t enough anymore. Even arming and bankrolling terrorist organizations that fight Israel isn’t enough anymore. Most Arabs simply do not believe Ahmadinejad and Khamenei when they not-so-cryptically suggest that their nuclear weapons will be pointed only at Israel. By a factor of 3-to-1, Saudis believe Iran would use nuclear weapons against either them or another Arab state in the Persian Gulf before using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Most Arabs hate or at the very least have serious problems with Israel, and I expect that will be true for the rest of my life, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict comes to an end. Yet the Middle East is forever interesting and surprising, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even applies to an extent when “the enemy of my enemy” is the “Zionist Entity.”

This was made abundantly clear during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, when Sunni Arab regimes tacitly took Jerusalem’s side by blaming Hezbollah for starting it and saying nothing, at least initially, about the Israeli response. The war was fought in an Arab country, but it was a proxy war between two non-Arab powers. Lebanon merely provided the battle space.

The Sunni Arab “street,” so to speak, didn’t take Israel’s side. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah managed to turn himself into a heroic big shot for a while by taking the fight to the enemy, but the most recent victims of Hezbollah’s violence were Sunnis in Beirut in 2008, and no one in the Middle East has forgotten it.

With only a few exceptions, the region has been firmly controlled by Sunni Arab regimes since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, yet none of these governments are strong enough to project power abroad. As author Lee Smith notes, they can’t even defend themselves. A number of analysts have pointed out in the last couple of years that the political agenda in the Arab Middle East is now set by non-Arabs in Jerusalem, Tehran, Washington, and to a lesser extent, Ankara. Syria’s Bashar Assad helps set the regional agenda as the logistics hub in the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, but he’s a non-Muslim Alawite, not a Sunni, and he’s doing it as a mere sidekick of the Persians. If all that weren’t enough, the Sunnis now depend on Israelis to defend them, and they’re not even sure the Israelis will do it.

We’ll know Iran’s power play is actually working if and when Sunni Arab governments issue not just boilerplate denunciations of the “Zionist Entity” but actually join the Iran-led resistance and fight Israel like they used to. In the meantime, they’re falling in behind their enemy, although they dare not admit it to anyone.

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Another Year, Another Peace Process

Carl in Jerusalem has a perceptive analysis of Secretary Clinton’s statement on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, addressing some of the concerns in my post about the omitted phrase “defensible borders” — a diplomatic term of art that has been dropped without explanation from the lexicon of the Obama administration.

Carl notes another significant omission, this time on the Palestinian side: Clinton referred to the goal of an “independent and viable” Palestinian state but omitted a word that has been insisted upon by the Palestinians:

There’s a key word missing here: contiguous. I have argued many times on this blog that if a ‘Palestinian’ state is contiguous, then by definition the Jewish state would be neither contiguous nor secure. Thus Clinton’s omission of the word contiguous from her formulation, if tracked in the [potential] letter to the “Palestinians,” is significant.

There may be a connection here. If a “contiguous” Palestinian state is not consistent with an Israeli one with “defensible” borders — and vice versa — Clinton may have simply ducked the issue by leaving both words out of her statement.

As the year ends, it is time for a broader look at the peace process, which has to date produced three Israeli withdrawals (from Lebanon, Gaza, and part of the West Bank); three Israeli offers of a Palestinian state (at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and during the Annapolis Process); three Palestinian rejections; and three wars – one from each area of the withdrawal. The enterprise is apparently too big to fail, even though it repeatedly does.

The Obama administration thought it would try its own unique approach – creating daylight between the U.S. and Israel, reneging on longstanding understandings about settlements, demanding pre-negotiation concessions, disregarding the 2004 Bush letter – but has not yet been able to get even new negotiations started. So we end the year just as it began, with a no-state solution that may be the best option under the circumstances.

As we now proceed to the 17th year of the peace process, it is worth re-reading Maj. Gen (Ret.) Giora Eiland’s valuable 2008 monograph for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Rethinking the Two-State Solution,” as well as two other paradigm-changing analyses from 2008: Caroline Glick’s “Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate,” and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon’s “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy.” Taken together, they provide the outline of a more reliable roadmap. Giora, in particular, argues persuasively that the current two-state paradigm is a zero-sum game that will not work even if a comprehensive peace agreement is achieved — and even if it were actually implemented:

Even in such a case, there is no chance that a Clinton [Parameter]-style solution would be stable or sustainable, for at least two reasons: the Palestinian state would not be viable, and Israel’s borders would not be defensible. The combination of these two problems would inevitably catapult the two sides back into a cycle of violence.

A strategy of artful formulations, such as Secretary Clinton’s confident statement about negotiations resolving the goals of both sides – while failing to list the conflicting ones of defensible borders and the demand for a contiguous state — is not likely to be successful. Meanwhile, the sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah marches toward weapons of mass destruction, unimpeded by an unperturbed Barack Obama.

Carl in Jerusalem has a perceptive analysis of Secretary Clinton’s statement on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, addressing some of the concerns in my post about the omitted phrase “defensible borders” — a diplomatic term of art that has been dropped without explanation from the lexicon of the Obama administration.

Carl notes another significant omission, this time on the Palestinian side: Clinton referred to the goal of an “independent and viable” Palestinian state but omitted a word that has been insisted upon by the Palestinians:

There’s a key word missing here: contiguous. I have argued many times on this blog that if a ‘Palestinian’ state is contiguous, then by definition the Jewish state would be neither contiguous nor secure. Thus Clinton’s omission of the word contiguous from her formulation, if tracked in the [potential] letter to the “Palestinians,” is significant.

There may be a connection here. If a “contiguous” Palestinian state is not consistent with an Israeli one with “defensible” borders — and vice versa — Clinton may have simply ducked the issue by leaving both words out of her statement.

As the year ends, it is time for a broader look at the peace process, which has to date produced three Israeli withdrawals (from Lebanon, Gaza, and part of the West Bank); three Israeli offers of a Palestinian state (at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and during the Annapolis Process); three Palestinian rejections; and three wars – one from each area of the withdrawal. The enterprise is apparently too big to fail, even though it repeatedly does.

The Obama administration thought it would try its own unique approach – creating daylight between the U.S. and Israel, reneging on longstanding understandings about settlements, demanding pre-negotiation concessions, disregarding the 2004 Bush letter – but has not yet been able to get even new negotiations started. So we end the year just as it began, with a no-state solution that may be the best option under the circumstances.

As we now proceed to the 17th year of the peace process, it is worth re-reading Maj. Gen (Ret.) Giora Eiland’s valuable 2008 monograph for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Rethinking the Two-State Solution,” as well as two other paradigm-changing analyses from 2008: Caroline Glick’s “Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate,” and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon’s “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy.” Taken together, they provide the outline of a more reliable roadmap. Giora, in particular, argues persuasively that the current two-state paradigm is a zero-sum game that will not work even if a comprehensive peace agreement is achieved — and even if it were actually implemented:

Even in such a case, there is no chance that a Clinton [Parameter]-style solution would be stable or sustainable, for at least two reasons: the Palestinian state would not be viable, and Israel’s borders would not be defensible. The combination of these two problems would inevitably catapult the two sides back into a cycle of violence.

A strategy of artful formulations, such as Secretary Clinton’s confident statement about negotiations resolving the goals of both sides – while failing to list the conflicting ones of defensible borders and the demand for a contiguous state — is not likely to be successful. Meanwhile, the sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah marches toward weapons of mass destruction, unimpeded by an unperturbed Barack Obama.

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More on Malley

In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.

Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.

Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.

Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:

[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.

Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.

Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.

The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.

In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.

Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.

Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.

Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:

[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.

Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.

Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.

The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.

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Biden’s Long Shot

Senator Joseph Biden and foreign policy luminary Leslie Gelb have been promoting a plan for “federalism” in Iraq. Indeed, Biden succeeded several weeks ago in securing a lopsided vote in the Senate in favor of the idea. This is, at least at first glance, a more responsible position than that taken by most Democrats, who criticize the Bush administration’s policies without enunciating alternatives or demand withdrawal of U.S. forces without addressing the likely consequences.

Biden and Gelb point out disarmingly that federalism is already enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Iraqis, though, call the Biden proposal “soft partition” of their country. Biden, himself, has long favored partition. And, if this is not what Biden and Gelb envision, it is impossible to see how their proposal amounts to an alternative to current policy—which is its whole point. Separating Iraq’s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish parts, they reason, will dampen intercommunal violence, making it possible for the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers.

At a recent conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Biden’s well-respected aide, Tony Blinken, gave one of two major plenary addresses on Iraq, and he used the occasion to spell out the Biden-Gelb approach. We face two crucial desiderata, said Blinken. One is to withdraw our forces, since the American public wants to bring the troops home. The other is to avoid military defeat that, he acknowledged, would have disastrous consequences. “Federalism,” he said, would enable us to achieve both objectives. Moreover, this approach could be supplemented by “incredibly aggressive, sustained diplomacy.”

Whenever Democrats speak of being “aggressive,” not to mention “incredibly aggressive,” I grow suspicious. It usually means that they are proposing something weak, if not outright capitulation. My suspicions grew as I reflected on Blinken’s opening proposition: that a single policy would allow us both to pull out and to win. If we could do that, I wondered, why hadn’t we tried it in all our other wars?

So I took the floor and asked Blinken a question. If the federalism plan did not reap its hoped for results, namely, to reduce appreciably Iraq’s violence, then would he and Biden and Gelb support maintaining U.S. troop levels in that country. To his credit, Blinken came clean. We must withdraw regardless, he said. And he confessed that the federalism plan had “only a 20 to 30 percent chance” of success.

When the ardent advocates of a policy give it a 20-30 percent chance of success, it is a safe bet that even they know its chances are much lower. So there it is. The Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq is to get out. On our way to the exit, however, we will toss off one long-shot political maneuver (and of course “incredibly aggressive” diplomacy). And what of the consequences defeat in Iraq? That is a subject on which the Democrats seem sworn to maintain incredibly aggressive, sustained silence.

Senator Joseph Biden and foreign policy luminary Leslie Gelb have been promoting a plan for “federalism” in Iraq. Indeed, Biden succeeded several weeks ago in securing a lopsided vote in the Senate in favor of the idea. This is, at least at first glance, a more responsible position than that taken by most Democrats, who criticize the Bush administration’s policies without enunciating alternatives or demand withdrawal of U.S. forces without addressing the likely consequences.

Biden and Gelb point out disarmingly that federalism is already enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Iraqis, though, call the Biden proposal “soft partition” of their country. Biden, himself, has long favored partition. And, if this is not what Biden and Gelb envision, it is impossible to see how their proposal amounts to an alternative to current policy—which is its whole point. Separating Iraq’s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish parts, they reason, will dampen intercommunal violence, making it possible for the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers.

At a recent conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Biden’s well-respected aide, Tony Blinken, gave one of two major plenary addresses on Iraq, and he used the occasion to spell out the Biden-Gelb approach. We face two crucial desiderata, said Blinken. One is to withdraw our forces, since the American public wants to bring the troops home. The other is to avoid military defeat that, he acknowledged, would have disastrous consequences. “Federalism,” he said, would enable us to achieve both objectives. Moreover, this approach could be supplemented by “incredibly aggressive, sustained diplomacy.”

Whenever Democrats speak of being “aggressive,” not to mention “incredibly aggressive,” I grow suspicious. It usually means that they are proposing something weak, if not outright capitulation. My suspicions grew as I reflected on Blinken’s opening proposition: that a single policy would allow us both to pull out and to win. If we could do that, I wondered, why hadn’t we tried it in all our other wars?

So I took the floor and asked Blinken a question. If the federalism plan did not reap its hoped for results, namely, to reduce appreciably Iraq’s violence, then would he and Biden and Gelb support maintaining U.S. troop levels in that country. To his credit, Blinken came clean. We must withdraw regardless, he said. And he confessed that the federalism plan had “only a 20 to 30 percent chance” of success.

When the ardent advocates of a policy give it a 20-30 percent chance of success, it is a safe bet that even they know its chances are much lower. So there it is. The Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq is to get out. On our way to the exit, however, we will toss off one long-shot political maneuver (and of course “incredibly aggressive” diplomacy). And what of the consequences defeat in Iraq? That is a subject on which the Democrats seem sworn to maintain incredibly aggressive, sustained silence.

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Syria’s Useful Israeli Idiots

The Syrian state-run propaganda organ Cham Press published a fake story about Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Jumblatt’s supposed plan to meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the United States last weekend to coordinate a regime-change in Syria. No Western media organization I know of took this non-story seriously. Israeli media, though, scooped it right up. Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Infolive TV published their own articles about the imaginary meeting between Jumblatt and Barak. None had a source for their story other than the Syrian government’s website.

It goes without saying that Israeli journalists aren’t in cahoots with the Baath Party regime in Damascus. Many Israeli reporters and editors, however, are frankly clueless about Lebanese and Syrian politics.

First of all, it is illegal for a Lebanese citizen to speak to an Israeli citizen no matter where in the world their meeting takes place. Even quietly waving hello to an Israeli on the border is treason.

A significant portion of the Lebanese people sided with Israel during the first Lebanon War in 1982, including Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel before he was assassinated. The South Lebanese Army was Israel’s proxy militia in what is now Hizballah-controlled territory, until then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli occupation forces from their “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. The draconian law is in place precisely to prevent such sympathizers from working with Israelis against Lebanese.

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The Syrian state-run propaganda organ Cham Press published a fake story about Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Jumblatt’s supposed plan to meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the United States last weekend to coordinate a regime-change in Syria. No Western media organization I know of took this non-story seriously. Israeli media, though, scooped it right up. Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Infolive TV published their own articles about the imaginary meeting between Jumblatt and Barak. None had a source for their story other than the Syrian government’s website.

It goes without saying that Israeli journalists aren’t in cahoots with the Baath Party regime in Damascus. Many Israeli reporters and editors, however, are frankly clueless about Lebanese and Syrian politics.

First of all, it is illegal for a Lebanese citizen to speak to an Israeli citizen no matter where in the world their meeting takes place. Even quietly waving hello to an Israeli on the border is treason.

A significant portion of the Lebanese people sided with Israel during the first Lebanon War in 1982, including Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel before he was assassinated. The South Lebanese Army was Israel’s proxy militia in what is now Hizballah-controlled territory, until then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli occupation forces from their “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. The draconian law is in place precisely to prevent such sympathizers from working with Israelis against Lebanese.

The law is absurd from the West’s point of view, and from the point of view of many Lebanese, too. Lebanon is “the least anti-Israel Arab country in the world,” as Lebanese political consultant and analyst Eli Khoury told me last year. But Lebanon, despite its moderation outside the Hizballah camp, is still under the shadow of the Syrian-Iranian axis, and remains threatened with de facto re-annexation. The reactionary law is still on the books, and even a leader as prominent as Walid Jumblatt dare not break it.

Jumblatt traveled to Washington this past weekend to give a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which you can read here. After Cham Press published its fabricated story, his office phoned the institute to make sure the Israeli Defense Minister would not be attending. He needed to be sure the two could not even run into each other by accident and make Syria’s bogus assertion look true.

Israeli journalists who “reported” this non-story should have noticed that they published a claim that Jumblatt and Barak will meet in the United States after the meeting was supposed to have already happened. Cham Press said the meeting would take place on Sunday, and Israeli media placed the alleged meeting in the future tense the following Monday.

Re-reporting Syrian lies in the Israeli press makes Cham Press look almost legitimate, its lies almost plausible. This should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t. The Damascus regime knows what it is doing and has been using gullible foreign journalists to its advantage for a while now.

“Regime flacks fed New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh outrageous propaganda about how the United States supposedly supported the Fatah al-Islam terrorists in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp in Lebanon,” said Tony Badran, a Lebanese research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Then they quoted his New Yorker story to get themselves diplomatically off the hook for their own support of those terrorists in the camp.”

And here we go again. Cham Press now says Israel’s Omedia reported that Jumblatt met with Barak and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington. Cham Press no longer quotes only itself; it quotes Israeli websites as backup. But the only reason Israeli media reported any of this in the first place is the initial false story appearing in Cham Press. Syrian media is still just quoting itself—only now it does so through Israel.

Jumblatt is near or at the top of Syria’s hit list. No Lebanese leader opposes Syrian terrorism and attempts at overlordship in Lebanon as staunchly as he. His pro-Western “March 14” bloc in parliament is already accused of being a “Zionist hand” by Hizballah and the Syrians. He was the second person Syrian ruler Bashar Assad threatened by name shortly before former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others were assassinated by a truck bomb in downtown Beirut. (“I will break Lebanon over your head and Walid Jumblatt’s,” Assad said to Hariri.) As Tony Badran pointed out to me, the Syrian regime has a habit of planting false stories about Lebanese leaders just before dispatching them with car bombs. The idea of Jumblatt meeting with Barak may seem innocent in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but it marks him for death in Lebanon and in Syria.

Syria is at war with both Israel and Lebanon. Journalists who wish to write about a conspiracy between Israel and Lebanon to destroy the regime in Syria need a better source for that story than the manipulative and murderous Syrian state.

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The New Peacemaker?

All at once everyone is talking about Saudi Arabia as the new Israeli-Palestinian peacemaker. What the United States could not do, what Europe could not do, what the Quartet could not do, the Saudis, we are being told, having just brokered an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, are the ones to do.

To take one of the many commentators in whose thinking this idea has crystallized, here is David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writing in an op-ed in the February 13 International Herald Tribune:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading for the Middle East next week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new effort to pursue peace through informal negotiations. . . . If there is one hope for the Rice idea, it is in Saudi Arabia. . . . The fact that the Palestinian talks between Abbas and Hamas during the last few days took place in Saudi Arabia demonstrates that Riyadh now recognizes that it cannot continue to stand aside, that diplomacy must be energized [in order to meet] Arab concern over the ascendance of Iran and other Islamist radicals in the region.

But with all due respect to the Saudis, all that the (in all likelihood very temporary) “success” of the Fatah-Hamas talks in Mecca demonstrates is how limited the Saudis’ ability to affect Palestinian attitudes toward Israel is. If after first banging Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh’s heads together and then parading them in décollete around the Kaaba, all they could get out of the two was Abbas’s accession to Haniyeh’s agreement to “honor” past PLO-Israel agreements while continuing to declare that Hamas would never recognize Israel (some way of “honoring” the Oslo Declaration of Principles!)—well, David Makovsky and all the others may as well forget it.

What Yasser Arafat was not willing to put his name to at Camp David and Taba in 2000 without Hamas—i.e., the most concessionary of all possible Israeli positions—Mahmoud Abbas will not by any stretch of the imagination put his name to now that the Saudis have yoked him to Hamas. And should he ever seek to unyoke himself, he will be a wagon without a horse. Whistling in the dark is never very effective, but this whistle doesn’t even carry the tune of peace.

All at once everyone is talking about Saudi Arabia as the new Israeli-Palestinian peacemaker. What the United States could not do, what Europe could not do, what the Quartet could not do, the Saudis, we are being told, having just brokered an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, are the ones to do.

To take one of the many commentators in whose thinking this idea has crystallized, here is David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writing in an op-ed in the February 13 International Herald Tribune:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading for the Middle East next week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new effort to pursue peace through informal negotiations. . . . If there is one hope for the Rice idea, it is in Saudi Arabia. . . . The fact that the Palestinian talks between Abbas and Hamas during the last few days took place in Saudi Arabia demonstrates that Riyadh now recognizes that it cannot continue to stand aside, that diplomacy must be energized [in order to meet] Arab concern over the ascendance of Iran and other Islamist radicals in the region.

But with all due respect to the Saudis, all that the (in all likelihood very temporary) “success” of the Fatah-Hamas talks in Mecca demonstrates is how limited the Saudis’ ability to affect Palestinian attitudes toward Israel is. If after first banging Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh’s heads together and then parading them in décollete around the Kaaba, all they could get out of the two was Abbas’s accession to Haniyeh’s agreement to “honor” past PLO-Israel agreements while continuing to declare that Hamas would never recognize Israel (some way of “honoring” the Oslo Declaration of Principles!)—well, David Makovsky and all the others may as well forget it.

What Yasser Arafat was not willing to put his name to at Camp David and Taba in 2000 without Hamas—i.e., the most concessionary of all possible Israeli positions—Mahmoud Abbas will not by any stretch of the imagination put his name to now that the Saudis have yoked him to Hamas. And should he ever seek to unyoke himself, he will be a wagon without a horse. Whistling in the dark is never very effective, but this whistle doesn’t even carry the tune of peace.

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