Commentary Magazine


Topic: Zbigniew Brzezinski

Hagel Backers Trying to Redefine Pro-Israel

Yesterday Chuck Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star there wasn’t “one shred of evidence that [he is] anti-Israeli.” President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense claimed the criticism of his record and statements on both Israel and Iran is nothing but “falsehoods and distortions.” That’s a message that is being taken up with gusto by Hagel’s defenders on the news talks shows this week. In particular, some of those who are fighting for his confirmation are taking the position that not only is Hagel pro-Israel but that those who have criticized his positions are in fact a noisy, extremist minority that doesn’t speak for American interests or those of American Jewry, or even the people of Israel.

This is a nasty piece of business that was best exemplified by journalist Carl Bernstein who, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today, denounced Hagel’s critics as “Likud” supporters that didn’t speak for American Jews like him. Bernstein’s diatribe in which he claimed the prime minister of Israel also didn’t speak for Israel was then praised effusively by fellow guest Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose own reputation as a bitter critic of Israel seemingly gave him the authority to decide what is and isn’t pro-Israel (something that could perhaps only happen on a show hosted by his daughter). Bernstein—a typical example of a public figure who only cites his Jewish heritage so as to enable him to bash supporters of Israel—has as little authority to speak on the subject as Brzezinski, but his comments go to the heart of the effort to push back at criticism of Hagel. The point here isn’t really about false accusations, since Hagel’s opposition to Iran sanctions or the use of force to stop its nuclear program as well as his boasts about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” are a matter of record. The issue here is one more attempt by Israel’s critics to change the terms of discussion on the issue, in order to make those who are outside the national consensus on the U.S.-Israel alliance appear to be mainstream thinkers while those who support it are castigated as extremists.

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Yesterday Chuck Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star there wasn’t “one shred of evidence that [he is] anti-Israeli.” President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense claimed the criticism of his record and statements on both Israel and Iran is nothing but “falsehoods and distortions.” That’s a message that is being taken up with gusto by Hagel’s defenders on the news talks shows this week. In particular, some of those who are fighting for his confirmation are taking the position that not only is Hagel pro-Israel but that those who have criticized his positions are in fact a noisy, extremist minority that doesn’t speak for American interests or those of American Jewry, or even the people of Israel.

This is a nasty piece of business that was best exemplified by journalist Carl Bernstein who, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today, denounced Hagel’s critics as “Likud” supporters that didn’t speak for American Jews like him. Bernstein’s diatribe in which he claimed the prime minister of Israel also didn’t speak for Israel was then praised effusively by fellow guest Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose own reputation as a bitter critic of Israel seemingly gave him the authority to decide what is and isn’t pro-Israel (something that could perhaps only happen on a show hosted by his daughter). Bernstein—a typical example of a public figure who only cites his Jewish heritage so as to enable him to bash supporters of Israel—has as little authority to speak on the subject as Brzezinski, but his comments go to the heart of the effort to push back at criticism of Hagel. The point here isn’t really about false accusations, since Hagel’s opposition to Iran sanctions or the use of force to stop its nuclear program as well as his boasts about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” are a matter of record. The issue here is one more attempt by Israel’s critics to change the terms of discussion on the issue, in order to make those who are outside the national consensus on the U.S.-Israel alliance appear to be mainstream thinkers while those who support it are castigated as extremists.

Let’s first dispense with the disingenuous nature of the defense of Hagel as being a mainstream backer of Israel. During his time in the Senate, the outspoken Nebraskan made no secret of the fact that he did not wish to be seen as part of the bipartisan consensus on Israel. That was the whole point behind his refusal to sign letters on anti-Semitism and terrorism that virtually every other member of the Senate supported. It was also the whole point behind his now-famous rant recorded by Aaron David Miller in which he bragged that unlike his colleagues he was one politician who wasn’t intimidated by the “Jewish lobby.”

Hagel was always one of those members of Congress who would couch any expression of support for Israel in words that made it clear that he disdained the decisions of its democratically-elected government (where it was run by Likud or its opponents) and that it needed to be saved from itself by forcing it to make concessions to its enemies that the people of the Jewish state believe to be unwise, if not suicidal. Nor is there any point trying to spin his long opposition to sanctions or force against Iran or Syria, or his advocacy for outreach to Hamas and Hezbollah as just another way of being a backer of Israel.

These are not mainstream positions. Nor do they require much courage since advocating anything that smacks of opposition to the pro-Israel consensus or talk about the “Jewish lobby” is bound to generate applause among the chattering classes and the liberal media, where resentment of Israel’s popularity is widespread.

Chuck Hagel does not publicly advocate Israel’s destruction, but there is more to the issue than this. To be pro-Israel one needn’t be a fan of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or of his hapless political opponents. But Americans who purport to care about Israel’s fate do need to respect its democratic process and understand that the idea that Americans have the right to override the judgment of the voters there is illegitimate. Israel, like any democracy, especially one that is still besieged by its enemies, has plenty of problems. But it does not need to be saved from itself, especially by those, like Hagel, who have long demonstrated little sympathy with its security dilemmas or alarm about the existential threats facing it.

People like Bernstein who claim that respect for the stands of Netanyahu’s coalition—which commands the support of a far larger share of Israel’s voters than President Obama won here in 2008 or 2012—is not consistent with supporting Israel are way out of line. So, too, are their attempts to brand the overwhelming majority of Americans who think Israel’s government deserves U.S. support as a conspiracy of neoconservatives and others who don’t speak for the best interest of this country or the Jewish community.

The failure of 20 years of peace processing and concessions to the Palestinians effectively destroyed the Israeli left. That is why Netanyahu is poised to be re-elected later this month with a coalition that is more right-wing than his last government. That may dismay many Americans, but they need to understand that it is the result of Israelis looking at the facts and drawing the inevitable conclusions from them. Unfortunately, many Americans prefer to ignore the reality of the Middle East. Such dreamers who insist on blaming Israel for the lack of peace can call themselves what they like, but that does not allow them to pose as the country’s ardent friends the way Hagel and his fans are trying to.

Hagel is a decorated veteran and a loyal supporter of President Obama. Those are both good reasons for him to sit in the president’s cabinet. But his views on Israel and Iran don’t mesh with the public positions of the president or most Americans. No amount of rhetorical overkill or disingenuous attacks on the pro-Israel community can disguise this fact. Nor can they transform him from the proud opponent of the “Jewish lobby” into the Jewish state’s friend.

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Explaining Foreign Policy Failures

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

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What a New National Security Adviser Means for Foreign Policy

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

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What Is Obama Up To?

Bill Kristol reports that the administration is telling foreign governments that it will back an international panel’s investigation of Israel concerning the flotilla incident:

The White House has apparently shrugged off concerns from elsewhere in the U.S. government that a) this is an extraordinary singling out of Israel, since all kinds of much worse incidents happen around the world without spurring UN investigations; b) that the investigation will be one-sided, focusing entirely on Israeli behavior and not on Turkey or on Hamas; and c) that this sets a terrible precedent for outside investigations of incidents involving U.S. troops or intelligence operatives as we conduct our own war on terror.

While UN Ambassador Susan Rice is reported to have played an important role in pushing for U.S. support of a UN investigation, the decision is, one official stressed, of course the president’s. The government of Israel has been consulting with the U.S. government on its own Israeli investigative panel, to be led by a retired supreme court justice, that would include respected international participants, including one from the U.S. But the Obama administration is reportedly saying that such a “kosher panel” is not good enough to satisfy the international community, or the Obama White House.

In any other administration this would be unthinkable, as would the kosher-panel remark. But with this team anything is possible. Recall that this week Obama himself spoke about an international board of inquiry. And other sources confirm to me that, indeed, this was Susan Rice’s recommendation. (This may explain why the U.S. was mute when Israel was condemned by the Human Right Council.)

But this brain storm might be a bridge too far, even for timid Democrats on the Hill. So (like the leaks about an imposed peace plan from James Jones meeting with such illustrious characters as Zbigniew Brzezinski), this may be an idea that the Obama administration really, really wants to pursue but doesn’t know if it can pull off. Test the waters, make Israel nervous. Turn up the heat. Show the Arabs what good guys we are. But if the game plan is exposed and a firestorm erupts, well, then — retreat. Deny that was ever the intention and come up with a plan that is less offensive — another “compromise.”

There is another alternative, of course. Veto (if it should come to the Security Council) and/or refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation. Support an Israeli investigation. The administration can and should do both. Perhaps the revelation that Obama is playing footsie with the UN (again, and as he did with the NPT group), will cause the administration to sound the retreat (as the Obama team was forced to do regarding the trial balloon on an imposed peace plan). But Obama can never bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace Israel and say no to the international community. Let’s see if he can manage to do that this time around.

Bill Kristol reports that the administration is telling foreign governments that it will back an international panel’s investigation of Israel concerning the flotilla incident:

The White House has apparently shrugged off concerns from elsewhere in the U.S. government that a) this is an extraordinary singling out of Israel, since all kinds of much worse incidents happen around the world without spurring UN investigations; b) that the investigation will be one-sided, focusing entirely on Israeli behavior and not on Turkey or on Hamas; and c) that this sets a terrible precedent for outside investigations of incidents involving U.S. troops or intelligence operatives as we conduct our own war on terror.

While UN Ambassador Susan Rice is reported to have played an important role in pushing for U.S. support of a UN investigation, the decision is, one official stressed, of course the president’s. The government of Israel has been consulting with the U.S. government on its own Israeli investigative panel, to be led by a retired supreme court justice, that would include respected international participants, including one from the U.S. But the Obama administration is reportedly saying that such a “kosher panel” is not good enough to satisfy the international community, or the Obama White House.

In any other administration this would be unthinkable, as would the kosher-panel remark. But with this team anything is possible. Recall that this week Obama himself spoke about an international board of inquiry. And other sources confirm to me that, indeed, this was Susan Rice’s recommendation. (This may explain why the U.S. was mute when Israel was condemned by the Human Right Council.)

But this brain storm might be a bridge too far, even for timid Democrats on the Hill. So (like the leaks about an imposed peace plan from James Jones meeting with such illustrious characters as Zbigniew Brzezinski), this may be an idea that the Obama administration really, really wants to pursue but doesn’t know if it can pull off. Test the waters, make Israel nervous. Turn up the heat. Show the Arabs what good guys we are. But if the game plan is exposed and a firestorm erupts, well, then — retreat. Deny that was ever the intention and come up with a plan that is less offensive — another “compromise.”

There is another alternative, of course. Veto (if it should come to the Security Council) and/or refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation. Support an Israeli investigation. The administration can and should do both. Perhaps the revelation that Obama is playing footsie with the UN (again, and as he did with the NPT group), will cause the administration to sound the retreat (as the Obama team was forced to do regarding the trial balloon on an imposed peace plan). But Obama can never bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace Israel and say no to the international community. Let’s see if he can manage to do that this time around.

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Are Jews That Gullible?

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

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What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

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The Brzezinski Card — In Play or Not?

This report does not fill one with confidence concerning the administration’s reaction to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

This report does not fill one with confidence concerning the administration’s reaction to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

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Another Jewish Organization Takes On Obama

Albeit with less vehemence than the World Jewish Congress and the ADL, the Orthodox Union joins the growing list of Jewish organizations publicly taking on Obama’s assault on Israel. Nathan Diament writes that the notion of an imposed peace with a divided Jerusalem — a “bitter pill,” as Zbigniew Brzezinski describes it — is fundamentally faulty:

Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history and identity.

From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover Seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

And he reminds us of the pre-1967 Jerusalem:

Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month — amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.

From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and East Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.

Whether or not one agrees with Diament’s take, his argument makes it clear that there is no obvious peace deal where the terms are “known to all,” as  Brzezinsk put it. Obama’s assault on Jerusalem and the threat of an imposed peace deal are, in fact, an “anathema to Jews everywhere.” (He certainly has some polling data on his side.)

It does seem we are entering a new phase in the Jewish community’s relationship with the administration. The series of public rebukes is noteworthy. And so is the timing of the AIPAC-sponsored letters, taking issue with Obama’s Iran and Israel policies. It is no coincidence it came directly on the heels of the nuclear summit. The message: you’re not fooling anyone. Now the question is whether that opposition manifests itself in a decline in support for Obama, and whether he really cares what Jews think. There’s substantial doubt about both.

Albeit with less vehemence than the World Jewish Congress and the ADL, the Orthodox Union joins the growing list of Jewish organizations publicly taking on Obama’s assault on Israel. Nathan Diament writes that the notion of an imposed peace with a divided Jerusalem — a “bitter pill,” as Zbigniew Brzezinski describes it — is fundamentally faulty:

Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history and identity.

From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover Seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

And he reminds us of the pre-1967 Jerusalem:

Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month — amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.

From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and East Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.

Whether or not one agrees with Diament’s take, his argument makes it clear that there is no obvious peace deal where the terms are “known to all,” as  Brzezinsk put it. Obama’s assault on Jerusalem and the threat of an imposed peace deal are, in fact, an “anathema to Jews everywhere.” (He certainly has some polling data on his side.)

It does seem we are entering a new phase in the Jewish community’s relationship with the administration. The series of public rebukes is noteworthy. And so is the timing of the AIPAC-sponsored letters, taking issue with Obama’s Iran and Israel policies. It is no coincidence it came directly on the heels of the nuclear summit. The message: you’re not fooling anyone. Now the question is whether that opposition manifests itself in a decline in support for Obama, and whether he really cares what Jews think. There’s substantial doubt about both.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jeffrey Herf discovers that “liberals should be willing to devote more efforts to the moral and political delegitimation of radical Islamism. It is a form of totalitarian ideology. It is profoundly reactionary and deeply anti-Semitic and, in this sense, racist. It draws on a radicalization and selective reading of the religion of Islam. During both World War II and the cold war, the United States derived great strategic value from naming its adversaries and publicly discussing and denouncing their ideologies. It fought wars of ideas that accompanied the force of arms. We need to understand the importance of doing that today as well.” Who knew?

Candidate Obama denied that Zbigniew Brzezinski was an adviser on the Middle East, but now Brzezinski’s giving Obama a nudge to impose a peace plan. It’s almost as if candidate Obama had disguised his true inclinations on Israel.

The mainstream media have hyped the comments of stray Tea Party activists but almost entirely ignored the doubling of anti-Semitic incidents in 2009. “Of course, recent history has shown American media only concerned with acts of violence when they fit into an agenda being advanced.”

Maybe we should bring back the term “Islamic radicalism“: “Chilling new details about the foiled Al Qaeda plot to blow up the city’s busiest subways have emerged as a fourth suspect was quietly arrested in Pakistan, the Daily News has learned. The unidentified man, who helped plan the plot, is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to betried in Brooklyn Federal Court with Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay of Flushing, Queens, sources said.”

Imagine the damage she’d do with a lifetime appointment: “The White House moved quickly today to squelch the widening speculation that Hillary Clinton could be nominated to the Supreme Court, as Senator Orrin Hatch suggested this morning.”

Shocking as it may seem, North Korea is not going to be sweet-talked into giving up its nuclear ambitions.

It’s not just Israel that’s staying away: “President Obama is holding one of the biggest global summits ever on U.S. soil starting Monday, but for all the hoopla, the event will be missing America’s strongest allies. As remarkable as it is, the fact that neither British Prime Minister Gordon Brown nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are attending President Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington Monday and Tuesday is not altogether surprising.Relations with both countries — Israel in particular — have grown strained under Obama. Combined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent defiance of the administration, questions are growing about the president’s ability to maintain important relationships. … The president’s critics, many of them from the Bush administration, say the summit absences — heads of state from Australia and Saudia Arabia also are not attending — are the most glaring examples of a floundering foreign policy that treats rivals and enemies better than friends.”

An expensive broken promise by Obama: “Taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year will pay roughly $3.9 billion more in taxes — in 2019 alone — because of healthcare reform, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official scorekeeper for legislation. The new law raises $15.2 billion over 10 years by limiting the medical expense deduction, a provision widely used by taxpayers who either have a serious illness or are older.”

Charles Krauthammer on Bart Stupak: “The guy’s political epitaph will read ‘A good man who played over his head.’ He held out and then he got squeezed by the president and the speaker. He caved. And the worst part of it was that he pretended that the instrument of surrender he signed was a victory. It’s a sad ending to a long career.”

Jeffrey Herf discovers that “liberals should be willing to devote more efforts to the moral and political delegitimation of radical Islamism. It is a form of totalitarian ideology. It is profoundly reactionary and deeply anti-Semitic and, in this sense, racist. It draws on a radicalization and selective reading of the religion of Islam. During both World War II and the cold war, the United States derived great strategic value from naming its adversaries and publicly discussing and denouncing their ideologies. It fought wars of ideas that accompanied the force of arms. We need to understand the importance of doing that today as well.” Who knew?

Candidate Obama denied that Zbigniew Brzezinski was an adviser on the Middle East, but now Brzezinski’s giving Obama a nudge to impose a peace plan. It’s almost as if candidate Obama had disguised his true inclinations on Israel.

The mainstream media have hyped the comments of stray Tea Party activists but almost entirely ignored the doubling of anti-Semitic incidents in 2009. “Of course, recent history has shown American media only concerned with acts of violence when they fit into an agenda being advanced.”

Maybe we should bring back the term “Islamic radicalism“: “Chilling new details about the foiled Al Qaeda plot to blow up the city’s busiest subways have emerged as a fourth suspect was quietly arrested in Pakistan, the Daily News has learned. The unidentified man, who helped plan the plot, is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to betried in Brooklyn Federal Court with Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay of Flushing, Queens, sources said.”

Imagine the damage she’d do with a lifetime appointment: “The White House moved quickly today to squelch the widening speculation that Hillary Clinton could be nominated to the Supreme Court, as Senator Orrin Hatch suggested this morning.”

Shocking as it may seem, North Korea is not going to be sweet-talked into giving up its nuclear ambitions.

It’s not just Israel that’s staying away: “President Obama is holding one of the biggest global summits ever on U.S. soil starting Monday, but for all the hoopla, the event will be missing America’s strongest allies. As remarkable as it is, the fact that neither British Prime Minister Gordon Brown nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are attending President Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington Monday and Tuesday is not altogether surprising.Relations with both countries — Israel in particular — have grown strained under Obama. Combined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent defiance of the administration, questions are growing about the president’s ability to maintain important relationships. … The president’s critics, many of them from the Bush administration, say the summit absences — heads of state from Australia and Saudia Arabia also are not attending — are the most glaring examples of a floundering foreign policy that treats rivals and enemies better than friends.”

An expensive broken promise by Obama: “Taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year will pay roughly $3.9 billion more in taxes — in 2019 alone — because of healthcare reform, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official scorekeeper for legislation. The new law raises $15.2 billion over 10 years by limiting the medical expense deduction, a provision widely used by taxpayers who either have a serious illness or are older.”

Charles Krauthammer on Bart Stupak: “The guy’s political epitaph will read ‘A good man who played over his head.’ He held out and then he got squeezed by the president and the speaker. He caved. And the worst part of it was that he pretended that the instrument of surrender he signed was a victory. It’s a sad ending to a long career.”

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Jewish Voters Deceived

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

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Obama’s Diplomatic War on Israel Is Just Getting Started

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

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Feisty Dershowitz Attacks the Wrong Target

According to Haaretz, the schmoozing is getting a little rough at the AIPAC conference. The Israeli paper says that Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz barged into a conversation between one of their reporters and Hadar Susskind, a representative of J Street, and then tore into the left-wing group. The Dersh, a liberal stalwart whose credentials as a partisan Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel cannot be questioned, pulled no punches but rather charged the group with false labeling in calling itself “pro-Israel” and accused it of dividing the Jewish community.

“I reject J Street because it spends more time criticizing Israel than supporting it,” he said. “They shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel. The combative Harvard law professor said that he too opposed settlements. “But I spend 80 per cent of my time supporting Israel,” he said. … The sort of supporters J Street was attracting to its conferences showed that the group was damaging to Israel, Dershowitz said. “If you invite Zbigniew Brzezinski you are not pro-Israel,” Dershowitz told Susskind. “You should ask yourself why Norman Finkelstein loves you,” he said.

Claus von Bulow’s former appeals attorney is, of course, right on all counts here. J Street isn’t merely an exercise in pro-Israel political diversity, as it claims. It spends more time bashing Israel than backing it because it was created specifically to create a counter-force to AIPAC that would push for pressure on the Jewish state. But the Dersh’s fury at J Street is misplaced. The question pro-Israel activists must ask is why he or they should bother wasting their time swinging away at J Street when the group is now merely a stalking horse for the real problem: the Obama administration.

J Street is, after all, nothing more than a Jewish rump of MoveOn.org and the leftist activist wing of the Democratic Party. It came into existence to give Jewish cover to members of Congress who wished to oppose the pro-Israel consensus. But now its main purpose is to give aid and comfort to an Obama administration that is determined to distance itself from Israel and to pressure it into concessions on issues — such as Jerusalem — on which an Israeli and American pro-Israel consensus is firmly behind the Netanyahu government. Dershowitz has expressed misgivings in the past about Obama’s policies but has refused to break with the president. But at this point it’s fair to ask Professor Dershowitz whether it isn’t it a bit unfair to smack J Street around when they’re only loyally carrying the water for the man whom he helped elect president and continues to support?

In 2008, Dershowitz argued that not only were Obama’s pro-Israel credentials impeccable but that it would be a boon to Israel to have a liberal president who backed the Jewish state. That was because he thought that having a liberal icon like Obama who supported Israel in the White House would convince young people and others on the Left that it was okay for them to do the same. But the opposite has happened. The pointless fights that Obama has picked with Israel (while he continues to dither on the threat from Iran) have helped to further discredit Israel among liberals and Democrats while J Street disingenuously stamps his policies “pro-Israel.”

But while he is prepared to get tough with Obama’s J Street spear-carriers, the redoubtable Professor Dershowitz is still unwilling to take on their inspirational leader in the White House. Slashing away at J Street’s stands is nice but if you’re going to keep giving Obama a pass for policies that put the left-wing lobby’s misguided principles into action, you’re wasting everybody’s time. The next time Dershowitz feels the urge to belabor Susskind and the rest of the J Street crowd, he should instead focus his anger on the real offender: Barack Obama.

According to Haaretz, the schmoozing is getting a little rough at the AIPAC conference. The Israeli paper says that Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz barged into a conversation between one of their reporters and Hadar Susskind, a representative of J Street, and then tore into the left-wing group. The Dersh, a liberal stalwart whose credentials as a partisan Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel cannot be questioned, pulled no punches but rather charged the group with false labeling in calling itself “pro-Israel” and accused it of dividing the Jewish community.

“I reject J Street because it spends more time criticizing Israel than supporting it,” he said. “They shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel. The combative Harvard law professor said that he too opposed settlements. “But I spend 80 per cent of my time supporting Israel,” he said. … The sort of supporters J Street was attracting to its conferences showed that the group was damaging to Israel, Dershowitz said. “If you invite Zbigniew Brzezinski you are not pro-Israel,” Dershowitz told Susskind. “You should ask yourself why Norman Finkelstein loves you,” he said.

Claus von Bulow’s former appeals attorney is, of course, right on all counts here. J Street isn’t merely an exercise in pro-Israel political diversity, as it claims. It spends more time bashing Israel than backing it because it was created specifically to create a counter-force to AIPAC that would push for pressure on the Jewish state. But the Dersh’s fury at J Street is misplaced. The question pro-Israel activists must ask is why he or they should bother wasting their time swinging away at J Street when the group is now merely a stalking horse for the real problem: the Obama administration.

J Street is, after all, nothing more than a Jewish rump of MoveOn.org and the leftist activist wing of the Democratic Party. It came into existence to give Jewish cover to members of Congress who wished to oppose the pro-Israel consensus. But now its main purpose is to give aid and comfort to an Obama administration that is determined to distance itself from Israel and to pressure it into concessions on issues — such as Jerusalem — on which an Israeli and American pro-Israel consensus is firmly behind the Netanyahu government. Dershowitz has expressed misgivings in the past about Obama’s policies but has refused to break with the president. But at this point it’s fair to ask Professor Dershowitz whether it isn’t it a bit unfair to smack J Street around when they’re only loyally carrying the water for the man whom he helped elect president and continues to support?

In 2008, Dershowitz argued that not only were Obama’s pro-Israel credentials impeccable but that it would be a boon to Israel to have a liberal president who backed the Jewish state. That was because he thought that having a liberal icon like Obama who supported Israel in the White House would convince young people and others on the Left that it was okay for them to do the same. But the opposite has happened. The pointless fights that Obama has picked with Israel (while he continues to dither on the threat from Iran) have helped to further discredit Israel among liberals and Democrats while J Street disingenuously stamps his policies “pro-Israel.”

But while he is prepared to get tough with Obama’s J Street spear-carriers, the redoubtable Professor Dershowitz is still unwilling to take on their inspirational leader in the White House. Slashing away at J Street’s stands is nice but if you’re going to keep giving Obama a pass for policies that put the left-wing lobby’s misguided principles into action, you’re wasting everybody’s time. The next time Dershowitz feels the urge to belabor Susskind and the rest of the J Street crowd, he should instead focus his anger on the real offender: Barack Obama.

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Words Matter — Until They Don’t

The ever-receding Obama “timelines” for Iran, the lack of a credible threat of serious sanctions, the secretary of state’s public disavowal of an ultimate option, and the persistent presidential silence on the entire topic make it likely that the Obama administration plans to pursue its “dual track” policy (ineffectual “engagement” and ineffectual “pressure”) until the policy is eventually overtaken by events. The fallback will be “deterrence” after Iran passes the nuclear threshold.

The irony is that the discrepancy between the Obama rhetoric and the Obama performance will doom deterrence as well. In his major campaign speech on Iran, Obama promised he would do “everything” in his power to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (in the speech as delivered, he actually repeated the word everything three times — the third time as a stand-alone sentence). Such weapons, he said both before and after he was elected, were “unacceptable.”

At her confirmation hearing, his secretary of state assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration would employ whatever option was ultimately necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

KERRY: … Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that or is it simply not desirable? I think, as you said, it’s in no one’s interest, which is less than the formation of the prohibition.

CLINTON: The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

As I also said, no option is off the table. So the president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on.

In practice, Obama’s policy has been the one favored by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In a March 5, 2009, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “US Strategy Regarding Iran,” Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a process with no public conditions or time limits, no assertions that force remained an option, and no statement that regime change was a goal. It was, he said, a process that might consume “years” — and warned we should not “become susceptible to advice from interested parties regarding how we are to proceed.” He made it clear that he meant Israel and its advice that a time limit should be set.

Senator Kerry asked if there wasn’t “an automatic timetable thrust on us” — because of “Iran’s own activities and Israel’s perception of those activities, as well as our own intelligence community’s interpretations of those activities.” Brzezinski answered, in essence, “no.” He cited the success of deterrence in the cases of the Soviet Union, China, and India and Pakistan:

The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other — knock on wood — so far.

And deterrence, their experience with deterrence gives us some grounds for not being under tremendous time limits.

And, in any case, we know that deterrence is predictable if it works.

Deterrence is a great fallback position, knock on wood, if it works. So there is no need for tremendous time limits. They can just be points on a calendar.

But the effectiveness of deterrence ultimately depends on the credibility of the U.S. promise to come to the defense of states throughout the region — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — threatened by a nuclear Iran. That credibility may not survive a failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me be clearer: once you have pledged to do “everything” to prevent an “unacceptable” occurrence, and then you allow it to occur, with no effort other than “smart” diplomacy, your next promise will not be believed. Your credibility will be gone.

The ever-receding Obama “timelines” for Iran, the lack of a credible threat of serious sanctions, the secretary of state’s public disavowal of an ultimate option, and the persistent presidential silence on the entire topic make it likely that the Obama administration plans to pursue its “dual track” policy (ineffectual “engagement” and ineffectual “pressure”) until the policy is eventually overtaken by events. The fallback will be “deterrence” after Iran passes the nuclear threshold.

The irony is that the discrepancy between the Obama rhetoric and the Obama performance will doom deterrence as well. In his major campaign speech on Iran, Obama promised he would do “everything” in his power to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (in the speech as delivered, he actually repeated the word everything three times — the third time as a stand-alone sentence). Such weapons, he said both before and after he was elected, were “unacceptable.”

At her confirmation hearing, his secretary of state assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration would employ whatever option was ultimately necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

KERRY: … Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that or is it simply not desirable? I think, as you said, it’s in no one’s interest, which is less than the formation of the prohibition.

CLINTON: The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

As I also said, no option is off the table. So the president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on.

In practice, Obama’s policy has been the one favored by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In a March 5, 2009, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “US Strategy Regarding Iran,” Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a process with no public conditions or time limits, no assertions that force remained an option, and no statement that regime change was a goal. It was, he said, a process that might consume “years” — and warned we should not “become susceptible to advice from interested parties regarding how we are to proceed.” He made it clear that he meant Israel and its advice that a time limit should be set.

Senator Kerry asked if there wasn’t “an automatic timetable thrust on us” — because of “Iran’s own activities and Israel’s perception of those activities, as well as our own intelligence community’s interpretations of those activities.” Brzezinski answered, in essence, “no.” He cited the success of deterrence in the cases of the Soviet Union, China, and India and Pakistan:

The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other — knock on wood — so far.

And deterrence, their experience with deterrence gives us some grounds for not being under tremendous time limits.

And, in any case, we know that deterrence is predictable if it works.

Deterrence is a great fallback position, knock on wood, if it works. So there is no need for tremendous time limits. They can just be points on a calendar.

But the effectiveness of deterrence ultimately depends on the credibility of the U.S. promise to come to the defense of states throughout the region — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — threatened by a nuclear Iran. That credibility may not survive a failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me be clearer: once you have pledged to do “everything” to prevent an “unacceptable” occurrence, and then you allow it to occur, with no effort other than “smart” diplomacy, your next promise will not be believed. Your credibility will be gone.

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Who’s Crazy?

I suppose we’ve reached a breakthrough on Iran when liberal pundits start invoking Richard Nixon — with fondness. Richard Cohen does so by way of considering whether Ahmadinejad is crazy/insane or crazy/dangerous, and whether it isn’t a good idea to upend the Iranian regime’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons. You know, maybe we should give the Iranians the idea that we might do something Nixonesque — like knock out some sites or embargo the country. He observes:

Israel, of all countries, has little faith in the rationality of mankind. It simply knows better. So the question of whether Ahmadinejad is playing the madman or really is a madman is not an academic exercise. It has a real and frightening immediacy that too often, in too many precincts, gets belittled as a form of paranoia. For instance, when Israeli leaders warn that they might take preemptive action against Iran — say, an attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities as they did in Iraq in 1981 — it is dismissed as irresponsible saber-rattling. Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.

The Obami’s policy, insofar we know they have one, hasn’t gone that far, though they speak quite openly of the risks of an attack and seem quite focused on making sure the Israelis don’t do anything as rash as preemptively removing a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. But what is crazy, even to the likes of Cohen, is the notion that we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran:

It would upend the balance of power throughout the Middle East and encourage radical/terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas to ratchet up their war against Israel. Other Middle East nations, not content to rely on an American nuclear umbrella, would seek their own bombs. An unstable region would go nuclear. (It speaks volumes about Middle Eastern reality and hypocrisy that Egypt serenely lives with an Israeli bomb but breaks out in diplomatic hives at the prospect of an Iranian one.)

And it is equally clear that, as Cohen acknowledges, the Obami have done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing its goal of joining the nuclear weapons club.
The Obama team likes to talk about creating consensus on Iran. Now everyone knows they’re bad guys, Hillary Clinton tells us — as if the  stolen election, the murders, the censorship, the brutality, the hidden nuclear sites, and the vows to exterminate Israel weren’t enough. But instead, the consensus has developed that Obama has behaved irresponsibly and in a very real sense irrationally. He expected a despotic regime to welcome cordial relations with the West, and he imagined that democracy protesters were an encumbrance rather than a remarkable opportunity for Iran and the West.

After a year, liberals and conservatives are reaching a consensus: Obama’s Iran policy is a dangerous flop. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts.

I suppose we’ve reached a breakthrough on Iran when liberal pundits start invoking Richard Nixon — with fondness. Richard Cohen does so by way of considering whether Ahmadinejad is crazy/insane or crazy/dangerous, and whether it isn’t a good idea to upend the Iranian regime’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons. You know, maybe we should give the Iranians the idea that we might do something Nixonesque — like knock out some sites or embargo the country. He observes:

Israel, of all countries, has little faith in the rationality of mankind. It simply knows better. So the question of whether Ahmadinejad is playing the madman or really is a madman is not an academic exercise. It has a real and frightening immediacy that too often, in too many precincts, gets belittled as a form of paranoia. For instance, when Israeli leaders warn that they might take preemptive action against Iran — say, an attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities as they did in Iraq in 1981 — it is dismissed as irresponsible saber-rattling. Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.

The Obami’s policy, insofar we know they have one, hasn’t gone that far, though they speak quite openly of the risks of an attack and seem quite focused on making sure the Israelis don’t do anything as rash as preemptively removing a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. But what is crazy, even to the likes of Cohen, is the notion that we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran:

It would upend the balance of power throughout the Middle East and encourage radical/terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas to ratchet up their war against Israel. Other Middle East nations, not content to rely on an American nuclear umbrella, would seek their own bombs. An unstable region would go nuclear. (It speaks volumes about Middle Eastern reality and hypocrisy that Egypt serenely lives with an Israeli bomb but breaks out in diplomatic hives at the prospect of an Iranian one.)

And it is equally clear that, as Cohen acknowledges, the Obami have done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing its goal of joining the nuclear weapons club.
The Obama team likes to talk about creating consensus on Iran. Now everyone knows they’re bad guys, Hillary Clinton tells us — as if the  stolen election, the murders, the censorship, the brutality, the hidden nuclear sites, and the vows to exterminate Israel weren’t enough. But instead, the consensus has developed that Obama has behaved irresponsibly and in a very real sense irrationally. He expected a despotic regime to welcome cordial relations with the West, and he imagined that democracy protesters were an encumbrance rather than a remarkable opportunity for Iran and the West.

After a year, liberals and conservatives are reaching a consensus: Obama’s Iran policy is a dangerous flop. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts.

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RIP William Odom

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

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Clean Hands, Empty Record

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?

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Carter’s Historic Relationship with Hamas

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

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Brzezinski and Me

CONTENTIONS readers might be interested in my exchange in the Washington Post with Zbigniew Brzezinski over the merits of a pullout from Iraq. His article is here and my reply is here. And, no, it’s not my fault that this article carries the same headline as a much longer article I did for COMMENTARY last August. Blame it on the Post editors, who may not read COMMENTARY quite as religiously as they should. Of course, even at roughly 950 words, my riposte does not begin to exhaust all the problems with Brzezinski’s reasoning. I’m sure this site’s readers will have plenty of other thoughts to offer.

CONTENTIONS readers might be interested in my exchange in the Washington Post with Zbigniew Brzezinski over the merits of a pullout from Iraq. His article is here and my reply is here. And, no, it’s not my fault that this article carries the same headline as a much longer article I did for COMMENTARY last August. Blame it on the Post editors, who may not read COMMENTARY quite as religiously as they should. Of course, even at roughly 950 words, my riposte does not begin to exhaust all the problems with Brzezinski’s reasoning. I’m sure this site’s readers will have plenty of other thoughts to offer.

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Obama Doesn’t Have A “Jewish Problem.” Really.

Barack Obama has no imperfection or shortcoming that can’t be glossed over by liberal pundits. The latest gloss: he has no Jewish problem and all this “guilt by association” is terribly imprecise and unfair.

You see, Obama is not responsible for Reverend Wright or Tony McPeak. But what about Samantha Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Malley? Isn’t it reasonable to ask “Why does Barack Obama have so many foreign policy and national security advisers whose statements about Israel and American Jews are problematic? ” Apparently we should not hold him responsible for selecting these individuals, nor attribute any of their views to him. And we shouldn’t be bothered either, I suppose, by his own comment that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The evidence that none of this matters? A Gallup poll showing Obama and Clinton splitting the Jewish vote. Others have pointed out that this does not tell us whether Jewish general election voters, given the choice between John McCain and Obama, will stick with the latter.

While it is correct that Jewish voters have favored Democrats in presidential elections, the GOP share of the Jewish vote has risen steadily. Will American Jews stick by a Democratic candidate who surrounds himself with the type of advisors Obama has, who feels unable to reject his pastor even after vile anti-Semitic remarks become known (and still insists his remarks are no big deal, apparently because the really objectionable ones only number “five or six”), and whose foreign policy embraces the notion of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’ll get a hint with the primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a significant number of Jewish voters (5% in the hotly contested 2006 Senate race).

But everything is fine, perfectly fine, say the liberal media Obamaphiles. (And the Italian vote isn’t a problem, either.)

Barack Obama has no imperfection or shortcoming that can’t be glossed over by liberal pundits. The latest gloss: he has no Jewish problem and all this “guilt by association” is terribly imprecise and unfair.

You see, Obama is not responsible for Reverend Wright or Tony McPeak. But what about Samantha Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Malley? Isn’t it reasonable to ask “Why does Barack Obama have so many foreign policy and national security advisers whose statements about Israel and American Jews are problematic? ” Apparently we should not hold him responsible for selecting these individuals, nor attribute any of their views to him. And we shouldn’t be bothered either, I suppose, by his own comment that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The evidence that none of this matters? A Gallup poll showing Obama and Clinton splitting the Jewish vote. Others have pointed out that this does not tell us whether Jewish general election voters, given the choice between John McCain and Obama, will stick with the latter.

While it is correct that Jewish voters have favored Democrats in presidential elections, the GOP share of the Jewish vote has risen steadily. Will American Jews stick by a Democratic candidate who surrounds himself with the type of advisors Obama has, who feels unable to reject his pastor even after vile anti-Semitic remarks become known (and still insists his remarks are no big deal, apparently because the really objectionable ones only number “five or six”), and whose foreign policy embraces the notion of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’ll get a hint with the primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a significant number of Jewish voters (5% in the hotly contested 2006 Senate race).

But everything is fine, perfectly fine, say the liberal media Obamaphiles. (And the Italian vote isn’t a problem, either.)

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Guess Who’s Coming to Help Us Enrich Uranium!

Guess who visited Syria recently? Nope, it wasn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski. And it wasn’t the Carnegie Endowment, either. It was a group of North Korean nuclear engineers:

North Korea admitted to sending engineers to military-related and other facilities in Syria during its recent talks with the United States over its nuclear program, diplomatic sources in New York said Friday. Pyongyang, however, denied its involvement in Syrian nuclear development, according to the sources. The dispatch of engineers and other personnel for bilateral cooperation, including on the military front, started in around 2000, North Korea told the United States in their talks from the end of last year to January. The North also exported materials to Syria, the sources said. Pyongyang claimed most of the personnel worked at civilian facilities, according to the sources.

Alarming, especially that too-emphatic claim that “most of the personnel worked at civilian facilities.”

Guess who visited Syria recently? Nope, it wasn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski. And it wasn’t the Carnegie Endowment, either. It was a group of North Korean nuclear engineers:

North Korea admitted to sending engineers to military-related and other facilities in Syria during its recent talks with the United States over its nuclear program, diplomatic sources in New York said Friday. Pyongyang, however, denied its involvement in Syrian nuclear development, according to the sources. The dispatch of engineers and other personnel for bilateral cooperation, including on the military front, started in around 2000, North Korea told the United States in their talks from the end of last year to January. The North also exported materials to Syria, the sources said. Pyongyang claimed most of the personnel worked at civilian facilities, according to the sources.

Alarming, especially that too-emphatic claim that “most of the personnel worked at civilian facilities.”

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