Category Archives: Obama presidency

Open letter to the Pentagon’s Rosa Brooks

Dear Rosa:
I hope you and the family are all well. It’s been a while since we got to know you and your fabulous mother, the principled and gutsy activist Barbara Ehrenreich, when you were living in Virginia. You were still such a big human rights activist at that time.
So anyway… No polite way to phrase this… Rosa, What the heck are you doing in your current role as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy, “running a new Pentagon office dedicated to those issues”… with regard to, primarily:

    1. The Executive Order that Pres. Obama signed March 7, in which he expressly allowed for the indefinite detention without trial of suspects in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay; and
    2. The appalling and deliberate humiliation to which warders in a U.S. Navy brig (naval prison) have been subjecting accused secrets leaker Bradley Manning.

Rosa, what on earth is going on– and what has your role been in all of this??
It is so hard to believe that you, Rosa Brooks, have been turning into John Yoo in this way. Rosa Brooks! With your long record as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, a fellow at he Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, a board member of Amnesty International USA, for goodness sakes, and a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law.
Rosa Brooks, whose newspaper columns at the L.A. Times, 2005-2009, were nearly always deeply animated by your defense of the universal rights of all persons– including the fundamental right to liberty and the right, if accused of a crime, to a fair and open trial… and the rights of all, whether incarcerated or not, to basic standards of human dignity and freedom from torture.
Sadly, the way that this September 2006 column of yours is titled on the website, now looks eerily prescient:”Rosa Brooks: Our Torturer-in-Chief.”
Rosa, please explain so that I and others can understand it: After two years of working in the Pentagon, has the evil of torture now become so routine and (as Hannah Arendt put it) “banal” for you that these latest, extremely abusive steps from the Obama administration now seem “okay” to you?
Do you see your role in the Pentagon as somehow being “to make things less bad than they would otherwise have been”? That is a common reason given by people who get sucked into doing the work of running the apparatuses of repression. (It’s also a “reason” that women who have been abused by their partners commonly give when they decide to stay with them, rather than quit.. Think about that. Are Michele Flournoy and your other bosses at the Pentagon and in the White House actually abusing you and your lengthy record of rights activism when they continue to employ you as their fig-leaf?)
Doing work of the kind you’re doing at the Pentagon is also nicely paid and (in some quarters) prestigious. But I can’t imagine that you have the excuse that your family needs the money you’re getting at the Pentagon. You were doubtless pulling in big bucks before as a law prof at Georgetown; and your husband, Peter Brooks, is not hard up, either. Nor can I believe that you “need” the prestige of working as a relatively lowly DAS at the Pentagon.
So why do you stay there at the Pentagon, providing a quasi-liberal “cover” for an administration that is, let’s face it, behaving in these matters no better than than the George W Bush administration behaved?
Rosa, please consider resigning. Your resignation from this strange office you are holding there could make a real difference. If you do it right, it could make 100 times more of a difference than you could ever hope to make if you simply stay on, tidying up some little portions of the detentions policy around the edges while continuing to act as a liberal fig-leaf there.
If you don’t resign, then that would be the saddest thing.
I wonder what your mom will think of you if stay on as “Rosa Brooks: Our Torturer-in-Chief”. I know what I would think of you.
Stay well, whatever you decide… But please, examine your soul deeply over these two latest, tragic steps.
Warm regards– Helena.

Obama reining in anti-Iran militarists?

David Ignatius had an extremely important piece in today’s WaPo, in which he reported on a small-group interview in which Pres. Obama spoke about Iran in a way that seemed calculated to rein in the numerous militarists who still populate some of the upper reaches of his administration (though notably not the Department of Defense.)
David’s money quote from Obama:

    “It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Obama said, adding: “They should know what they can say ‘yes’ to.” As in the past, he left open the possibility that the United States would accept a deal that allows Iran to maintain its civilian nuclear program, so long as Iran provides “confidence-building measures” to verify that it is not building a bomb.

It is certainly significant that the President himself met with these journalists– the other participants have not yet been named– to send this message, rather than leaving the task to someone else in his administration who might then become the subject of smear and whispering campaigns from the dedicated coterie of Likud supporters that’s so powerful in Washington DC and the U.S. mainstream media. (Such as happened, for example, to his national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, around a year ago. And before that, of course– and to even more deadly effect– to Chas Freeman.)
Obama also gave Ignatius and his colleagues the message that the administration is eager to talk to Tehran about Afghanistan– though David gave no record that he said anything similar about coordination over Iraq. That, even though the politics/diplomacy of the the U.S. military effecting its now firmly promised cessation of combat operations in Iraq remain extremely unclear, complex, and potentially hazardous.
Ignatius wrote that after Obama left the room two un-named “senior officials” (one of whom was almost certainly Jones– the other, who knows? Dennis Ross???) in effect spun, or perhaps more politely “contextualized”, what the journos had just heard from the commander-in-chief by saying that the timing is now good to “test” Tehran through a diplomatic overture because Tehran has now started hurting from the new sanctions imposed by the U.N. in May/June.
Right now, the President needs all the support he can get for a policy of real and sincere diplomatic engagement with Iran. (As opposed to the kind of faux ‘engagement’ that is designed to fail, and whose sole intention is to prepare the way for a new war.)
Over at Time mag, Joe Klein has a thoughtful essay summing up the woeful series of developments that was set in train the last time pro-Likud extremists managed to jerk our nation into a quite unnecessary and unjustified war of aggression in the Middle East. (Iraq, 2003.)
It must not happen again.

IDF takes Obama aide, family to occupied Golan

There has been a longstanding policy in the U.S. that serving government officials should not take private visits to Israeli-occupied territories.
So why has Pres. Obama’s highest ranking adviser, Rahm Emanuel, been taking his family to the Israeli-occupied Golan? (HT: Didi Remez, here.)
What’s more, as if to underline the military character of Israel’s rule over this territory, the Emanuel family was conveyed there by an Israeli military helicopter.
As JWN readers should be well aware, Israel occupied the whole area of the Golan in the war of 1967, and it has been under military occupation since then. The Israeli Knesset annexed it in 1981– an act of outright aggrandizement that has received recognition from neither the U.S. nor any other government or inter-governmental organization in the world.
Why are Pres. Obama and his principal policy aide being so flagrant about flouting international law, international convention, and the rules of the U.S. government itself in this case? Just to try to keep on escalating their campaign of hostility against Syria?
Indeed, we U.S. citizens should also be asking why the president’s top policy aide feels the need to go to Israel to hold the religious ceremonies marking his son’s coming of age. The vast majority of Jewish Americans hold those ceremonies in their home synagogues here in the U.S.
Emanuel is also reportedly scheduled to meet with PM Netanyahu while he’s in Israel today.
Who is running Obama’s policy in the region, we might ask? No previous Secretary of State or National Security Adviser would have ever allowed the prez’s chief of staff to be playing such a prominent role in an arena of such intense diplomatic sensitivity and also, given the U.S.’s military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, such great centrality for the wellbeing and survival of U.S. troops.

Update 9:35 a.m.:
Here is a translation of a portion of the Maariv report on Emanuel’s visit:

    The IDF Spokesperson’s Office: “Rahm Emanuel and his family were hosted today by the IDF, visited an outpost on the northern border and an Air Force base. All components of the visit were approved by authorized officials.”
    In the afternoon, they returned to northern Israel and spent the second half of the day on a tour of sites, some of which serve as a symbol of Israel’s control of the Golan Heights land. They first visited Mt. Bental, near Kibbutz Merom Golan, where they looked over at the Syrian city of Kuneitra. From there they continued to Elrom Studios, and viewed “Oz 77,” an audiovisual presentation that depicts the heroic and bloody battle over the “Vale of Tears” in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

    “Emanuel has a very warm spot in his heart for the Golan Heights, because he volunteered there for two weeks in the Northern Command during the Gulf War. Presumably, he is opposed to giving back the Golan Heights,” a source in Washington said yesterday.

    Today, Emanuel’s visit to Israel will take on a slightly more official nature. He will meet this evening with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a visit that was defined as unofficial. During the meeting, as stated by the White House, the two will discuss the bilateral relations between the two states. On Thursday, Emanuel and his family are scheduled to meet with President Peres.

Davutoğlu replies to Hillary (and Barack)

Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoğlu today made clear his resentment about the tepid reaction most western governments had toward the deal his government and Brazil concluded with Iran yesterday on a swap of low-enriched nuclear materials, and Washington’s continued push to win a tough anti-Iran sanctions resolution from the Security Council.
Hurriyet Daily News reported today that:

    “The discussions on sanctions will spoil the atmosphere and the escalation of statements may provoke the Iranian public,” the Turkish foreign minister told a group of reporters after an official press conference in Istanbul.
    “Our mandate was limited to striking a deal on the swap,” Davutoğlu said. “If reaching an agreement on the swap was not important, why would we spend so much time and energy on the issue?”

HT to China Hand, who had an excellent round-up about the whole issue on his blog yesterday.
The Hurriyet account continued:

    “With the agreement yesterday, an important psychological threshold has been crossed toward establishing mutual trust,” Davutoğlu said. “This is the first indirect deal signed by Iran with the West in 30 years.
    Davutoğlu … objected to criticism over the amount of fuel that will be swapped. Critics of the deal argue that the 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that Iran agreed to have stored in Turkey was an amount set in October, when the idea of a swap first about. Since then, they say, Iran has continued to produce more low-enriched uranium.
    According to Davutoğlu, U.S. President Barack Obama recently sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarding the negotiations and the quantity mentioned in this letter was exactly 1,200 kilograms. The foreign minister said all relevant parties were kept informed at all stages of the negotiations with Iran and claimed that the early skeptical reactions stem from the fact that a successful deal was not expected.
    “I think there is no problem with the text of the deal. The problem is that they were not expecting that Iran would accept,” he said. “They had a reflex conditioned on the expectation that Iran will always say no. That’s why they were a little bit caught by surprise.”

The account also notes that Davutoğlu “said the deal could not have happened had it not been for Obama’s multilateral engagement policies.”
But I do think Obama should have been paying a bit more attention to what the Turks and Brazil’s President Lula Da Silva were doing in this whole affair.
Interesting that Obama “recently” sent a letter to Turkish PM Erdoğan regarding the negotiations– but that then, over the weekend as the negotiations proceeded to their end-game, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs he made no effort at all to reach out to the two fellow heads of government who were conducting them with Iran.
This was especially disturbing, since both Turkey and Brazil are fellow members of the Security Council, along with the U.S. It is highly unlikely that novice diplomatist Hillary Clinton will be able to get much of what she wants in the world body if she continues to fundamentally disrespect the diplomatic heavy lifting undertaken by Erdoğan and Lula.
By contrast with Sec. Clinton, Davutoğlu is a person with rich credentials as both a theorist and a practicioner of the art of diplomacy. The fact that even he brought himself to express a bit of (thinly veiled) frustration with the stance of Washington indicates to me that the frustration elsewhere in the Turkish government must be running even more strongly.

Obama’s ‘Nuclear Security’ showcase, Israeli nukes, etc

The police helicopters have been droning overhead for a couple of days here in Washington DC, as scores of world leaders sit with Pres. Obama at the ‘Nuclear Security Summit’.
(But not Netanyahu. We’ll come back to him later.)
This morning I was having a meeting with a prominent former U.S. diplomatist who recalled how, back in the first months of the GWB administration, Secdef Rumsfeld had been making a huge issue out of the need for ballistic missile defense, convening summits and the like.
“But then,” my friend said, “it turned out that a bunch of Saudis had discovered that an airplane full of fuel could be even more deadly than a ballistic missile– especially if it had a guidance system as sophisticated as that provided by the human mind… It’s the same thing today. They’re all barking up this nuclear security tree, when there are so many other potentially very lethal materials lying around.”
Oh well. I guess Obama and his people have been trying to make a point… including by convening this gathering to which everyone except Iran, Syria, and North Korea gets invited.
But actually, isn’t that rather a childish “point” to seek to make? “We’ve got more friends than you have! Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!”
… Well, and then speaking of potentially very dangerous actors on the world scene who might one day get hold of the ingredients for nuclear weapons, there is of course Israel.
Oops! My silly mistake! Israel of course already has an advanced nuclear arsenal that may well be one of the three most deadly on the planet.
Just a couple of days ago, I blogged here that, just as the ‘elephant’ of the undue influence that dedicated pro-Israeli political appointees have long had on the making of U.S. Mideast policy is now coming ponderously out of the room of silence in which it was previously caged, then surely it must be time that that other big ‘elephant’ of which no-one in U.S. polite company like to speak– the fact of Israel’s own massive nuclear arsenal– should also be brought into the light of day.
Little did I know that that very evening, veteran Israeli commentator Yaron London was putting finishing touches to an op-ed in which he made exactly that same argument. (English translation here, thanks to Didi Remez.)
London was writing that it is time for Israel to end its long-pursued policy of “nuclear ambiguity”:

    Who are those interested in maintaining the ambiguity? The United States, with which, according to foreign sources, we have reached an agreement that it keep its wide eyes shut, and the Arab countries, which are unenthusiastic about getting drawn into a nuclear arms race.
    But the value of ambiguity has long since passed. Iran is certain to become nuclear, or will perhaps be stopped “half an inch before tightening the screws” from actually getting the bomb. The argument that Iran should not be denied a nuclear weapons so long as this is not being denied from Israel — if we are to believe foreign sources — has found a receptive international audience.
    …The age of nuclear ambiguity is coming to an end and it will be followed by an age of open debate. It is time that more people be allowed to take part in the debate which is most critical to our very existence.

Interesting…
One source that London linked to was this news report in Yediot Aharonot on April 10, which quoted a recent Jane’s report on the topic in these terms:

    the Israeli strategic force could be deployed by the Jericho 2 missile, which has a range of up to 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles), or the five-year-old Jericho 3, which reaches up to 7,800 kilometers.
    It is also believed to be able to deploy by air, using F-16 fighter jets, and even by sea through its submarine fleet, providing an opportunity for a second strike if its land systems are attacked.
    Israel acquired three diesel-powered Dolphin-class submarines in 1999-2000 which are capable of launching adapted Harpoon cruise missiles fitted with nuclear warheads.
    In addition, Jane’s says some observers believe Jerusalem has developed tactical nuclear weapons such as landmines and artillery shells.

Oh, and then I can’t help but juxtapose that sobering report with the photo in this news report today from Maan News in Bethlehem.
The report starts:

    Israel’s military said the bodies of two “heavily armed” Islamic Jihad operatives were found in the Gaza Strip late Tuesday, hours after they were killed in clashes near the Al-Bureij refugee camp…

Okay, so the IOF had apparently gone into the Gaza Strip after killing these two guys (and maybe beforehand, as well, in order to kill them?) But anyway, the photo, which was provided by the Israeli military, shows the “heavy armaments” it said it found on their bodies.
Of course, there is absolutely no way of verifying that the men were ever armed with these items, which seem from the photo to include only two folding-stock Klashen’s, eight Klashen bullet-magazines, and some other unidentifiable objects. We have to take IOF’s ‘say-so’ on this.
But even if they were carrying these weapons– let’s think about the armaments the IOF invasion force no doubt had at its command!
What, no pictures of those items?
And then, not far away, is the nuclear facility in Dimona…
How much longer do Israelis think that westerners will continue getting taken in by all their extremely dishonest arguments? Do they think we’re all idiots?

On the current tipping point

    1. We really are at a tipping point.

AIPAC and its allies have really gotten their undies in a twist over last week’s confrontation between Netanyahu and Biden (and Sec. Clinton, too.)
Next week, AIPAC has its big, power-demonstrating policy conference in Washington. The list of confirmed speakers is topped by Clinton and Netanyahu. How will that go? Will it be a love-fest or some discreet form of a continued confrontation? Will one or the other find a reason not to attend? Whatever happens, it’s going to be important.
Meantime, Petraeus– along with, presumably, others in both the brass and the suits sides at the Pentagon– have started to discreetly weigh in on the real dangers Netanyahu’s current policies pose to the lives of U.S. soldiers… And in the commentatoriat even Tom Friedman has come out strongly critical of the Netanyahu government’s arrogance over Jerusalem.
AIPAC and its attack-dog allies have been fast, focused, and relentless. I’ve been receiving a stream of emailed news releases from the attack-dog group “The Israel Project”, whose head, Jennifer Mizrachi has also been robo-calling me on my cellphone to urge me to contact legislators and the Prez to urge them to reaffirm their support for Israel and back off from confronting Netanyahu over Jerusalem. The press release AIPAC itself issued Sunday publicly called on Obama TO WORK TO IMMEDIATELY DEFUSE THE TENSION WITH ISRAEL (their screech, not mine.)
And where have the alleged “counter-AIPAC” organizations like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, or even that sad little group the Council for the National Interest been all this time? Notably AWOL, compared with AIPAC, TIP, etc. J Street hasn’t put anything on their website on the Jerusalem-settlements issue, or on their email list, since March 11; APN hasn’t done anything on it March 10. And you can search CNI’s website and find nothing about it at all. Nor has the End the Occupation website.
This matters, because steering or dominating the narrative is really important in moments of crisis.
But anyway, the intense frenzy of activity from AIPAC, TIP, etc shows us that they think we are at what could well be a crisis for them. (And they are far from stupid.) After all, is the President simply going to wave away the concerns that have now, verifiedly, been voiced by the leader of Centcom about the dangers that Israel’s policies pose to the lives and wellbeing of American troops? I do not see that he can.

    2. In electoral politics, it still is ‘the economy, stupid.’

The present confrontation between an administration in Washington and a settlement-addicted Likud government in Israel harks straight back to the period in 1991-92 when Pres. George H.W. Bush and Sec. of State James Baker got into a similar confrontation with Likud leader (and lest we forget, former terrorist gunman) Yitzhak Shamir. We need to remember the political lessons from that incident– and remember them correctly.
The short version of what happened in that clash was that Bush and Baker drew their line in the sand against use of U.S. loan guarantees (however fungibly) to support the construction of settlements in the West Bank. During the Israeli elections of 1992, that principled U.S. stance persuaded Israeli voters, ever mindful of the need for good relations with Washington, to vote Shamir out and replace his government with a Labor-led coalition that enjoyed far better relations with Washington.
In the U.S. elections of later that year, however, Bush lost. The big question for us in the U.S. today, is why exactly did he lose?
The lobby people would have us believe the story that they and their allies have been spreading ever since Bush’s defeat in November 1992: that he lost precisely because he had had the temerity to confront a government in Israel. That understanding of November 1992 came to dominate many narratives and “elite” political understandings– in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
But it ain’t so!
I was here in the U.S. during that election. It was the first or second general election I voted in. Go back and read the news accounts of the time. Bush lost– and Clinton won– because of the immense power of Clinton’s slogan that “It’s the economy, stupid!” It was the terrible state of the economy then that dominated voters’ thinking– much more importantly than anything about the Middle East, including Bush’s previous set-to with Shamir. (And after all, most Jewish Americans were very happy to see Shamir replaced by Rabin.)
In the mid-term elections of November 2010, and in the presidential election of 2012, it will similarly be the state of the economy and of domestic governance in general that dominates voters’ thinking. Inasmuch as the Middle East intrudes on voters’ thinking at all– which would anyway be very trivial–only a small proportion of voters are going to end up having their behavior swayed by the screechy arguments that AIPAC and Co. make about distant Jerusalem. Many more could be persuaded by organizations or opinion leaders who take trouble to spell out the kinds of arguments about the true interests of the American people in the region, as spelled out made by Gen. Petraeus (and also, as it happens, back in November by myself.)
So we do need to underline to the President and his political advisers that they absolutely should not be be blown off course by any arguments AIPAC and and its shills might make about “Hey, don’t mess with us: Look what we did to Bush I back in 1992.” It still really is “the economy, stupid!”

    3. What Obama could do.

The administration has decided to delay, for an unstated length of time, the visit to Israel and Palestine that peace envoy George Mitchell was due to start yesterday. That’s good for starters.
The administration’s position, as described here by the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler, is that it is pressing Netanyahu to do three things:

    a. reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a “disputed” [i.e. occupied] area of Jerusalem,
    b. make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and
    c. publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, are on the agenda in the upcoming talks.

Kessler doesn’t say this, but I understand that the administration’s position is that unless Netanyahu does these things, then Mitchell won’t be launching the promised “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians any time soon.
Notice there, by the way, the degree to which these proximity talks are being treated by Washington as a boon or reward for Israel, which can be delayed or withheld by Washington as part of its diplomatic bargaining with the Netanyahu government. But actually, Netanyahu might in the abstract be very happy not to have the proximity talks. Why does it need them? Does Washington need them, actually, more than Israel? Maybe.
There are a lot of other things the Obama administration could do as well if it really wanted to demonstrate its commitment to achieving a fair and sustainable peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. In no particular order of doability or anything else it could do any or all of the following, and should consider doing at least some of them.
It could,

    A. Announce the launching of an administration-wide review of all U.S. policies that have any relationship to the Israeli settlements including policies affecting economic links and trade preferences being extended to settlements as well as to Israel proper; the activities and tax status of U.S. entities, including non-profit entities, that have dealings with or in the settlements. The terms of reference of this review should explicitly spell out that its purview includes the settlements in Jerusalem as well as elsewhere (including Golan.)
    B. Announcement of a similar review of policies and entities related in any way to Israel’s illegal Wall.
    C. Commit to a series of steps aimed at speedily ending the illegal and anti-humane siege that Israel maintains against Gaza and restoring all the rights of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
    D. Sen. Mitchell should be empowered to talk to representatives of all those Palestinian parties that won seats in the 2006 PLC election which was, let us remember, certified by all international monitors as free and fair. Obama and Co. should also inform the Egyptians and all other parties that they want and expect them to be helpful rather than obstructive in the Palestinian parties’ efforts to reach internal reconciliation.
    E. Move speedily toward giving the other four permanent members of the Security Council more real role in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. They all have a lot to offer and can help the U.S. get out of the very tight spot it currently finds itself in, in the Greater Middle East region.

4. Finally, beware of ‘dirty tricks’.
We should all be very aware that Netanyahu and the even more militantly settlerist parties who are in his ruling coalition (and now well entrenched in the leadership of many of his security apparatuses) will not necessarily “play fair” in any continuing confrontation with Washington. No doubt many of these forces are already thinking up a variety of “dirty tricks” they might employ to try to reduce Obama’s power domestically and internationally, to make him look weak, and to “punish” him for daring to stand up to their plan to Judaize the whole of Jerusalem while America looks impotently on.
Let’s remember the history of, for example, the Lavon Affair in 1954, in which, according to the well-sourced Wikipedia entry,

    Israeli military intelligence planted bombs in Egyptian, American and British-owned targets in Egypt in the summer of 1954 in the hopes that “the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, ‘unspecified malcontents’ or ‘local nationalists'” would be blamed.

A country whose leaders could in relatively recent history act as cynically as that, including against British and U.S. targets, might well today have leaders who might think along similar lines.
Including, perhaps, even an action as explosive as launching some kind of military provocation against Iran, whose counter-attack would almost certainly engulf far more of the Americans who are on the country’s borders, than of Israelis?
The U.S. military, obviously, need to redouble their efforts to prevent any such provocation. But other Israeli “dirty tricks” against the U.S., in a wide variety of arenas, are also very possible in the period ahead.

So does Biden finally get it? Does Obama??

Shimon Shiffer, writing in Yediot Aharonot today (HT: Laura Rozen):

    While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone. …
    People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
    The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.

Helena Cobban, writing in The Christian Science Monitor November 24, 2009:

    President Obama urgently needs to distance Washington from the provocative – and illegal – actions the Israeli government has been undertaking in Jerusalem.
    He needs to do this to save the two-state solution that he supports between Israelis and Palestinians. He needs to do it, too, because it will help protect US troops around the world. Jerusalem is a core concern for many of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, and with US forces now facing tense situations in several majority-Muslim countries, Washington has a stronger need than ever to keep the goodwill of the peoples of those lands

I also wrote there that Pres. Obama should take concrete action,

    by linking US aid to Israel to its compliance with international law in the city, by supporting action by the UN Security Council to uphold international standards there, and in other ways.

It is that concrete action that we have not yet seen. If we fail to see it, then sadly we’ll have to conclude that it is not just the government of Israel that is putting the lives of U.S. service-members at risk, but also Pres. Obama, through the extreme timidity he has shown in his dealings with the government of Israel.

The Biden factor: Iraq, Palestine– and Israel

Breaking news: late Wednesday evening in Cairo, Abu Mazen and his buddies at the Arab League decided there will be no ‘proximity talks’ between the PLO and Israel.
I’m kind of interested in the way Abu Mazen is getting Amr Moussa to front for him these days. It does indicate a serious lack of his own confidence in the depth of his support among Palestinians… But that matter is tangential to the main story here, which is–
The Amazingly Unsuccessful ‘Diplomatist’ Joe Biden!
Biden, lest we forget, is the man who in an interview with George Stephanopoulos last July, publicly gave Israel carte blanche to attack Iran whenever it wanted.
Biden was also, back in the pre-2003 day, one of Ahmed Chalabi’s main supporters in the U.S., and an enthusiastic backer of the idea of partitioning Iraq.
Since he became Vice-President, Biden has had a role “orchestrating” Washington’s Iraq policy on behalf of the president… Well, we’ve seen how that’s been going… To be fair, that is not as horrendously badly as it might have been going… But it hasn’t been going brilliantly, either– certainly not as brilliantly as most of the US MSM have been saying.
Biden has not done a particularly good job there, I think.
But he has really been bombing in Palestine.
Yes, of course we can and should lay the primary blame for what’s been happening in Jerusalem this past couple of days squarely on the Israeli government, the body that greeted Biden, on his first visit to Israel as vice-president, with not one but two announcements about the construction of new settler housing.
Notable that Yossi Sarid writes in Thursday’s Haaretz that,

    Don’t believe Benjamin Netanyahu for one moment when he says he “never knew” [about the 1,600 new settler housing units announced Tuesday.] The Jerusalem planning committee is only too aware of what the bosses want, and the government has decided to step up construction in greater Jerusalem. Dispossession and taking possession, kicking out and moving in – that’s what it’s all about.

Sarid also gave us these additional details about Biden’s time in Israel:

    This is one visit Joe Biden will not quickly forget. First he was compelled to sit through 25 minutes of an annoying speech in his honor by our president. Shimon Peres really believes that he is the destination for pilgrims from all over the world who drink in his musings and are intoxicated by his vision.
    Later, Biden was given a certificate memorializing his mother, but the glass broke. Once again, Bibi didn’t pay attention, leaned on it and shattered it. No fear, his speeches have always diverted attention from such mishaps. And finally, to add a finishing touch of infuriating disgrace, the Haredi neighborhood Ramat Shlomo was dumped on the vice-presidential head.
    Truth be told, the Obama administration just about asked for this slap. In Jerusalem, the lesson has been learned that the White House doesn’t fulfill its obligations – it just goes through the motions by issuing insincere rebukes.

Insincere rebukes, indeed.
Juan Cole and Pat Lang, two very seasoned analysts of Middle eastern dynamics, are just two of the people who say that, on hearing of the new settlement construction, Biden should simply have ordered up his plane and left Israel, rather than sitting there, going through the rest of the charade of the visit, while saying something on the record about how the Obama administration “condemns” the new construction.
I’m assuming Biden decided on this course of action after consultation with Washington. (He took 90 minutes to decide what to do.) Do he and his boss the Prez have no idea how disgusted most of the people in the world are with the fact that, though from time to time Washington might say something critical of Israel– meantime Washington never holds Israel to serious account, for anything, including “grave breaches of international humanitarian law” like implanting its settlers into occupied territories?
And the U.S. Congress continues to shovel money to Israel. U.S. diplomacy continues to get completely bent out of shape by defending Israel’s actions in every international forum, at every turn, and by zealously pursuing Israel-driven agendas throughout the entire Middle East, including with regard to Iraq and Iran.
And these actions by the administration and Congress put the lives of U.S. service-members deployed around the world, often in pursuit of Israel-driven agendas, in significant additional risk.
Regarding Biden, Pat Lang has this intriguing little vignette in his latest post:

    I was in Biden’s senate office on one occasion when Biden’s Zionism boiled over in a truly repulsive display of temper. I was there with my Arab employer to visit the senator… The Arab made some pro forma positive reference to the “peace process.” Biden flew into a rage, grew red in the face and shouted that this was an insincere lie and that his guest knew that it was only Arab stubbornness that prevented “little Israel’ from living in peace. His “guest” sat through this with what dignity he could manage. I would have walked out on him if I had been alone.

Assuming that the vignette’s true– and I tend to trust Lang on that– it reveals quite a few disturbing things about Biden. Not just the guy’s knee-jerk pro-Israelism, which is endemic just about everywhere in Congress, with a few notable exceptions. But also his evident lack of any diplomatic skills. I mean, why fly into a pro-Israeli rage like that if an Arab guest should happen to mention the “peace process”? What on earth good was he hoping to achieve by doing that? Nothing that I can think of– except to vent his own feelings.
… And meanwhile, George Mitchell, Mr. “Senior Peace Envoy”, has completely dropped off the map.
It is honestly not clear to me at all, right now, what it is that Obama and his people are hoping to achieve in the Arab-Israeli arena. Their entire “peace diplomacy” is in shambles. It’s as if Obama really doesn’t care any more about any of the lofty– but oh-so-important– goals he articulated back in the first days and weeks of his presidency. But he should realize that letting his “peace diplomacy” fall into disarray, as he has now done, is something that will have consequences far, far beyond Israel and Palestine. And quite possibly, more rapidly than anyone in Washington realizes.

More signs of Mitchell’s sidelining

There’s been quite a bit of talk in the conference here about the way that George Mitchell has either been sidelined or has for other reasons faded from the scene. Of course, it’s not just Mitchell that has been sidelined, it’s the whole justice-based and vigorous U.S. pursuit of peace that his appointment back in January 2009 seemed to promise.
So today the NYT tells us that Sec. Clinton and three of her top aides are fanning out to the Middle East in a concerted campaign to–
…make a push for Palestinian-Israeli peace? No!
Rather, they’re trekking out to try to line regional leaders up behind the latest step in the (AIPAC- and Likud-driven) campaign to ratchet the pressure up inexorably against Iran.
And who are these envoys?
Well, there’s Hillary herself, who’s going to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Then, there’s her Under-Secretary for political affairs, Bill Burns, who’s going to Syria.
And there are her two Deputy Secretaries, for Policy and Administration… James Steinberg (Policy) will be going to Israel, and Jacob Lew (Administration) will be going to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.
And when was the last time we heard any major news about George Mitchell? (Yawn.)

UN-HRC endorses Goldstone; Netanyahu’s over-reach unraveling?

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today endorsed the report of the Goldstone Commission that identified probable war crimes and and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and by some Palestinian armed groups during last winter’s Israeli assault on Gaza.
That report from AFP tells us that,

    25 of the council’s 47 members, led by the Arab and African states, voted for the resolution. Six, including the United States, voted against while 16 others either abstained or did not vote.
    The resolution calls for the endorsement of “the recommendations contained in the report” produced by a fact-finding mission led by international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to probe the 22-day conflict.
    It also “calls upon all concerned parties including United Nations bodies, to ensure their implementation.”

It was tragic that the US voted against the HRC resolution. However, it seems likely the Goldstone report will now be considered by the Security Council at the session it will be holding on the matter next week.
The world– and especially perhaps the majority-Muslim countries of the world– will be watching closely to see that the US does not cast a veto there.
The fact that the HRC took up the Goldstone report once again, and that it endorsed its main findings and recommendations, marks a double setback for Israel’s current, extremely rightwing government, which had fought tooth and nail to quash or bury it.
In the first instance, the HRC’s decision to take up the report once again this week was due to the fact that the PLO leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, which ten days took its own– quite clearly Israel-spurred– action to bury the report, was forced by the overwhelming strength of Palestinian public opinion to reverse that policy.
In the second instance, the fact that the report won such strong endorsement in the HRC marked a notable setback for the campaign Netanyahu waged against it there.
Netanyahu and his coalition partners– many of whom are even more extreme than he is– have been riding high in recent weeks. They had completely bypassed all the efforts of the Obama administration to win a freeze on the construction of new (illegal) Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. They had persuaded Obama to force Abbas into a humiliating three-way meeting along with Netanyahu and Obama, despite Abbas’s previously oft-stated refusal to meet with Netanyahu in the absence of a settlement freeze. The actions of extremist, government-backed Israeli settler organizations to penetrate, settle, and excavate deep inside areas of Palestinian East Jerusalem were accelerating full-steam ahead.
Oh, Netanyahu must have been feeling so happy… Especially at his ability to keep the Obama administration completely off his back.
Not so fast, Mr. Netanyahu.
Right now, Pres. Obama and his most senior military and diplomatic advisers are meeting in prolonged, solemn session to reach some extremely serious decisions about the deployment of reinforcements for, and the mounting threats to, the many scores of thousands of US and allied troops who are deployed deep into the heart of many very distant portions of the Muslim world.
And Netanyahu, the prime minister of a small country of some seven million citizens, thinks his government’s interest in colonial expansion should necessarily trump the rights of the Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the strong concern that the world’s more than one billion Muslims have in the wellbeing of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, and the safety and security of the US and allied troops who are deployed throughout the Muslim world?
He’s been dreaming– and pursuing– some dreams that are extremely hazardous to international peace and stability.
But now, there are some signs that the extent of Netanyahu’s colonialist over-reach is becoming more clear, including to decisionmakers here in Washington; and that it may, finally, be meeting its limits here.
In one of my early reactions to the Goldstone report last month, I noted that many of the folks who have wanted to bury or set aside Goldston’s recommendations about winning accountability for past actions in Gaza said they wanted to do so “in the interests of peacemaking; that is, the interests of the future rather than the past.”
However, I also noted that Gaza’s 1.45 million people face conditions of horrendous inhumanity and stress in the present; and that those conditions continue, day by day by day.
The prime interest of everyone concerned about relieving suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian theater should therefore surely be on lifting Israel’s quite inhumane siege of Gaza. A siege that is, as Godlstone noted, itself an instance of quite illegal collective punishment.
I gather that last night, at a dinner hosted by the American Task Force on Palestine, Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, told attendees that “All three of the crossings between Israel and Gaza should be opened.” (HT: Gene Bird)
Those are the crossings through which goods, and a small number of people, flow. Since it is still, under international law, the occupying power in Gaza, Israel has direct responsibility for the wellbeing– we could even say, the normal human flourishing– of the residents of Gaza. So obviously, those gates should be opened.
Winter approaches, but the Gazans haven’t been able even to rebuild their homes, businesses, and basic infrastructure after the destruction Israel wrought last winter.
Gen. Jones can tell an audience that “the gates should be opened.” But the US government continues to provide immense, and in many fields quite unequalled, benefits to the government of Israel– in the military, economic, diplomatic, and many other arenas.
So when will we see the Obama administration start to apply some strict accountability to Israel’s government regarding lifting the siege of Gaza?
Deeds, not words, please. On all aspects of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the protection of Palestinian– along with Israeli– rights.