Category Archives: US politics

Israeli vice-premier, accused of war crimes, welcomed in Washington’s Wilson Center

On March 9, I received the following invitation:

    The Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum
    of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center
    present (sic)
    A Conversation
    with Moshe Yaalon

    Vice Premier, Minister of Strategic Affairs and Likud Knesset Member
    Moderated by
    Aaron David Miller
    Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center
    In the aftermath of the political change sweeping the Arab world, Minister Yaalon will share his perspective on how those events have shaped Israeli attitudes and policies on security, peacemaking, and relations with its Arab neighbors.
    Thursday, March 24, 2011, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
    6th Floor Flom Auditorium, Woodrow Wilson Center…

I was never able to go to the event. But today, I learned that it is now being described as “off the record”. Why?
Possibly because Moshe Ya’alon has been credibly accused of having committed war crimes in Gaza– most notably during the 2002 assassination of senior Hamas figure Salah Shehadeh– an act committed when Mr. Shehadeh was eating dinner in his own home and thus in no sense a valid target under the laws of war? (Eight children and six other family members were killed alongside him during that meal.)
There are many countries in the world that Gen. Ya’alon can’t visit right now, because of the criminal charges that have been filed against him in connection with that killing as well as the shelling of the village of Qana in Lebanon in 1996, in which 120 mainly older people who had taken refuge there were killed. Here in the U.S. no such criminal charges have yet been filed, so he comes and goes as he pleases. But really, is there any need for a federally funded institution like the Wilson Center to grace him with an invitation?
Or possibly, the Wilson Center event is off the record because Ya’alon’s views on “relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors” are still extremely hawkish, and to have any reporting of those views– as delivered in the U.S.-funded Wilson Center– could prove an embarrassment to the Obama administration as it is running around trying to make nice with so many Arab leaders?
On “hawkish”: Ya’alon has said that Israeli settlers should be freely allowed to colonize any parts of the occupied West Bank that they please, and has described the mildly pro-peace people of the Israeli Peace Now movement as a “virus”.
Anyway, as a U.S. taxpayer I find it very unseemly that this war-mongering, racist guy, against whom there are credible accusations that he has committed war crimes, be welcomed into a place supported by my tax dollars and there allowed to hold forth to a select group of invitees who are not even allowed to report openly on what he says.
What on earth is the Wilson Center turning into, under its new President, the unquestioningly pro-Israel former senator congresswoman, Jane Harman?

Jones’s departure– linked to dog-wagging?

I am still trying to get my head around why– less than a month before a crucial mid-term election– Obama’s national security adviser (until Friday), Gen. Jim Jones, felt now would be a good time to leave.
Of course, it is not clear at all yet whether Jones took the initiative to leave the White House, or was pushed. But the timing looks inauspicious in the extreme. Especially coming so close on the heels of the resignation of Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel– who left, it seems, more to further his own personal political agenda than with the president’s agenda in mind.
Leaving (or being replaced) right after a midterm election, you can understand. But just 3.5 weeks beforehand? Doesn’t this make the presidency look inept, unclear, and weak? If Gen. Jones had been sincere in his commitment to serving this president… and being a longtime officer in the Marine Corps, and all… the fact of his departure at this particular time has to be significant.
It certainly seems to me as though he felt he lost out on some very significant policy debate inside the administration; and that was what provoked his departure.
Not like Cyrus Vance, an ethical and decent man who as Secretary of State strongly opposed Pres. Carter’s (as it turned out, ill-fated) attempt to rescue the hostages using a whiz-bang military intervention, but who until after the intervention had been tried– and failed– to make public the fact of his previously decided resignation.
Not like Colin Powell, either, who overcame his own strong reservations about George W. Bush’s rush to invade Iraq and who will be forever remembered as the weak-willed soul who chose to collude in that (even more ill-fated) intervention at a point– in February 2003– when he was possibly the one person on the planet who could have stopped it in its tracks.
So now, Jim Jones has resigned. Why?
Several reporters are saying that Bob Woodward’s publication of so many details in his latest book, Obama’s Wars, about the difficulties Jones has had fitting in with Obama’s more “political”, predominantly Chicago-based team may well have pushed Jones to resign right now.
I don’t buy it. I don’t think that a guy who’s a much decorated Marine Corps general is going to be so easily intimidated or embarrassed. Throughout much of his tenure, remember, Jones has been the subject of intermittent whispering campaigns. None of them sent him to the point of resignation.
Why now?
Will we wake up some day between now and the November 2 election and discover that Obama has signed off on some “spectacular” military adventure whose intent is, overwhelmingly, to try to shock the country into swinging behind the Democrats in the election? The “Wag the Dog” scenario. That’s one strong candidate for an explanation of why now, of all times, a national security adviser would resign.
Another is that maybe Jones wanted Obama to do something more forceful and principled about the Israeli government’s utter disrespect of international law and Obama’s wishes regarding its continuous campaign of land-grabbing in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank.
Let us not forget that the man who is now filling Jones’s shoes, Tom Donilon, is a politician well honed in the arts of inside-the-Washington-Beltway politicking (and with almost zero experience of international affairs.) And by all accounts it was Tom Donilon who cleared the path for Dennis Ross to glide back in from being board chair of the Jerusalem-based “Jewish People’s Policy Planning Institute” to lording it over Obama’s originally designated envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Sen. George Mitchell– to the point where Ross now has all the reins of Washington’s Middle East policy firmly in his own hands.
Or, as M.J. Rosenberg puts it, so much more succinctly than I have, “Jones Out, Ross In: Middle East Burns.”
But with all due respect to M.J., I still don’t think that either he or Mitchell Plitnick, whom he quotes extensively in that piece, have really addressed the core question regarding Jones’s resignation: Why now?
In Woodward’s book, there are a few tantalizing vignettes about Jones’s often difficult relationship with Donilon.
On p.199, Woodward writes that Jones “was impressed” with what Donilon was able to achieve in the frequent meetings he chaired, that brought together the deputy-level people from all the big national-security departments and agencies–

    but he also resented the close relationship that Donilon had with [Rahm] Emanuel. He still chafed that the main pipeline cntinued to be Emanual-Donilon, who were like two tuning forks– when one vibrated, so did the other.

Woodward also writes that during a performance review discussion he had with Donilon, Jones criticized his deputy for never having gone to Iraq or Afghanistan “or really left the office for a serious field trip.” And this:

    Second, Jones continued, you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met, or colleagues you work with.

So there we have a picture of Donilon as the ultimate Washington Beltway insider. (As is his wife, who is Mrs. Biden’s chief of staff.) Small wonder, if his main frame of reference is what people are saying and thinking in the heavily Lobby-saturated halls of Capitol Hill– rather than in the world beyond America’s shores– that he thinks that having Dennis Ross guide the country’s policies on Palestine and Iran is quite the best thing to do.
Very, very disturbing to have this man now as national security adviser.
Scarier still: he already has a strong record of having forcefully pursued policies that led our country to the brink of disaster. From 1999 through 2005 he was legal counsel and a “top strategic thinker” at the government-backed mortgage company Fannie Mae. Those were the go-go years in mortgage banking, when Fannie Mae and its young cousin Freddie Mac were crucial, government-backed enablers of some of the worst financial excesses that led to the crash of September 2008.
Tom Donilon was never held to any account for his actions during those years. And now, here he comes again…
But I still want to focus on the question of why did Gen. Jones decide to leave now??

More on America’s pro-Israeli warmongers

Over at Lobelog, Eli Clifton and Daniel Luban have been doing a great job of keeping tabs on the many neocon and tightly pro-Likud groups that have been springing up in the U.S., trying to create the impression there’s a “growing groundswell of opinion” that wants the U.S. to attack Iran, and thereby trying to push Pres. Obama into doing so.
These groups are often called “astroturf” groups, since they simulate the actions of more genuine grassroots movements.
Read Eli and Daniel’s recent posts on this here: 1, 2, 3, 4.
You would think that the people who jack-knifed the U.S. power elite and a large chunk of the U.S. public into supporting the disastrous and tragic invasion of Iraq seven years ago would have been too ashamed to show their faces in public, ever again. But no. Here they are. Again. These people have no shame.
“Keep Israel Safe!” “Emergency Committee for Israel”, etc etc. What arrant and mendacious nonsense.
What these people propose certainly won’t do anything to bring safety to the peoples of either the U.S., or Israel.
As Steve Walt writes about the so-called “Emergency Committee”: “Its members must think Israel is in real trouble, but what they don’t seem to realize is that it is their advice that has helped lead to its current difficulties…”
Anyway, if you’re concerned about the machinations of these well-funded astroturf warmongers, head over to Lobelog and learn all about them.

Jeffrey Goldberg, his Israeli friends, Marcy Winograd

I don’t usually spend much time reading the blog that the eager Zionist apologist– the eager Zionist!– Jeffrey Goldberg writes at The Atlantic. Today, I didn’t spend a long time there, but I did read two interesting items:
In this one, JG writes that he is currently in Israel, and–

    I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”
    … I’m not going to predict the political fall-out from this, because I’m not clever enough to fully grasp Israeli coalition politics. [Ah, Jeffrey, as though Israel is only country that has “politics”, eh? ~HC] But the feelings of shame and embarrassment are palpable, and someone will have to pay a price.
    About that shame and embarrassment: I just met with the son of a friend who serves in an elite Israeli army unit, one very much similiar to Flotilla 13, the Naval commando unit deployed so disastrously against the anti-Israel flotilla, and he explained the shame this way: “These soldiers are the best we have. We are Israel’s deterrent. People in the Middle East need to think we are the best, and we are the best, except that when we’re sent into situations without any intelligence, without any direction, with paintball guns instead of sufficient weapons, with no understanding of who we’re fighting. Then we’re going to have a disaster… ”

Then, from last week, he had this really interesting account of an interview he had conducted a few days earlier with Marcy Winograd, the political activist challenging arch-Zionist Rep. Jane Harman in the Democratic primary in California’s 36th congressional district (someplace in Los Angeles), to be held June 8th.
In a statement on her website today, Winograd slammed into Harman for having been so silent about Israel’s flotilla murders. It said,

    “If my opponent wanted to exercise leadership, she would demand the U.S. government condemn these murders. Her silence leaves those of us in the 36th congressional district once again to wonder whether Jane Harman truly represents all the people of this district, or just the military contractors and those who prioritize Israel, right or wrong. Her tacit approval of such violent tactics also reconfirms my assertion that Harman’s policies make us all less–rather than more–safe.
    Harman last week launched a media campaign attacking Winograd for her promotion of equal rights and justice for all in the middle east. Winograd states, “Millions around the world see the truth unfolding on their TV screens. My opponent can twist my calls for human rights, but the people see that there needs to be accountability for violence, and a sane policy for peace in the middle east.”

All power to Marcy Winograd in her campaign!
Highlights from Goldberg’s interview with her:

    Jeffrey Goldberg: What originally motivated you to challenge Jane Harman?
    Marcy Winograd: My original motivation had a lot to do with her covering for the Bush Administration’s crimes, covering for the invasion of Iraq and covering for the massive illegal wiretapping program. Jane Harman failed in her duty to provide oversight as the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. She either didn’t read or didn’t take seriously doubts raised by members of the intelligence community about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and she recklessly took us to war on the heels of that. Then I saw her on “Meet the Press” attacking The New York Times for finally releasing a story on illegal wiretaps and I thought to myself that someone has to challenge her, someone has to challenge Democratic incumbents who are complicit in the crimes of the Bush Administration. We need real representation, not someone who is in the pocket of special interests.
    JG: What special interests is she in the pocket of?
    MW: Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, Israel. Not Israel, but AIPAC, because it’s not necessarily the same.
    … JG: Talk about how you would fight terrorism.
    MW: I would work very hard for a peace agreement in the Middle East with Israel and Palestine. I think that is part of the problem, certainly not the whole problem, but it creates a great deal of tension which fuels this kind of opposition. I would, as I said, reassess whether we need all these bases, or whether we would be better off investing our resources in working with NGOs to improve local economies. I mean, in Afghanistan, forty percent of the adult population is unemployed. The biggest enemy is poverty and unemployment.
    JG: Is there anything you would do against terrorism militarily?
    MW: I would join the International Criminal Court. I believe in diplomacy and the rule of law. When people are perpetrating acts of terrorism they should be tried before the world in the world court or tried in absentia. The strongest defense is when you create coalitions of people around the world, not when you have divided the world.
    JG: Go this Henry Waxman question. Are you for a bi-national state or are you for a two-state solution?
    MW: I consider myself a realist, okay? I’m Jewish. I’ve labeled myself as a Jewish woman of conscience who is compelled to speak out because of the suffering in the world. I support peace, so whatever both sides can agree to, which would probably be an agreement on a mutual exchange of territory, I would fully support, because I want peace. However, and let me share this with you, I grew up in a strong Zionist family, I sang at my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, I sent my daughter to Jewish pre-school, I went to Israel when I was in my 20s. That’s my background, and all that being said, I know that Israel was born on land where a million Palestinians lived. For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There’s no safety or security in barring people from their homeland. Ultimately, Jews and Palestinians need to learn to live together, just as they lived in peace for many years.
    JG: Can you be a liberal and a Zionist at the same time?
    MW: Well, there’s a less-harmful Zionism. I don’t see Zionism as liberal. Zionism categorizes Jews as a race, which makes it easier for Jews to be targeted.
    JG: Zionism doesn’t categorize Jews as a race, it categorizes Jews as a nation.
    MW: To me, there’s no safety in creating a nation predicated on either racial or ethnic supremacy.
    JG: How did you come to this view?
    MW: I’ve been torn about this for a long time, and not really wanting to look at it, which a lot of Jews probably feel, wanting to turn away from it because it’s too painful. It’s too tied to our identity, to our neighborhoods, to our whole orientation. I My primary concern is peace. I don’t feel comfortable advocating for a country based on ethnic and racial supremacy. Personally, I’m a believer in equality, one voice, one vote, Israelis and Palestinians, one voice, one vote, that’s my personal position.
    JG: Eventual bi-nationalism.
    MW: Yes.

Far-right Israeli gov’t cracks down– on members of US Congress!

Well, they do say that those whom the Gods want to destroy, first they make crazy… And here is the evidence that it this is indeed happening in today’s Israel. The ultra-right in Israel has always attacked many members of the ethnic-Palestinian leadership in Israel for being “anti-patriotic”, “traitorous”, or a “fifth column”. But in recent weeks, a really vile proto-fascist organization called Im Tirzu has come out with a campaign of unprecedented vituperativeness against such pillars of the left-Zionist establishment as Naomi Chazan, a former deputy Speaker of the Knessset who is the chair of New Israel Fund.
Just scroll down in this recent post by the indefatigable Didi Remez to see the grotesque caricature of Dr. Chazan that Im Tirzu published recently.
And now, Israel’s hard right has gone even crazier. Yesterday, the foreign ministry, which is headed by the ultra-rightists Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon, even intervened to prevent four visiting members of the U.S. Congress from meeting Israel’s president, the veteran politician and former prime minister Shimon Peres!
The four are are William Delahunt (D-Mass.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Mary Jo Kilroy (D.-Ohio)
The foreign ministry reportedly sought to block their visit with Peres because the short regional tour on which the four are traveling was organized by J Street, the newish Jewish organization in town that proudly describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”, and Churches for Middle East Peace, a much smaller pro-peace advocacy group that is also a staunch supporter of Israel’s existence and security. (Full disclosure: I sit on the Leadership Council of CMEP.)
No word on whether Peres himself, who used to the head of the Labour Party and who always used to pride himself on being pro-peace, tried to over-ride the foreign ministry in the matter.
This morning, Rep. Delahunt issued a statement noting that the group had just returned from Sderot in southern Israe, “where we had a very emotional meeting with the Mayor and residents from whom we better understood the trauma and pain they have endured…
He added,

    We were puzzled that the Deputy Foreign Minister has apparently attempted to block our meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s office and Foreign Ministry – questioning either our own support of Israel or that we would even consider traveling to the region with groups that the Deputy Foreign Minister has so inaccurately described as “anti-Israel.”
    In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship.
    We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations. There are undoubtedly a range of opinions in this country as there are in the United States on how best to secure our common goal of peace and security for Israel and all the peoples of the region.
    It is unwise for anyone to take disagreements as to how to accomplish our common goals and purpose – which is to achieve peace and security – and to misrepresent those differences as questioning support and concern for the state of Israel itself.

Delahunt, I should note, has been one of the wisest members of congress on issues relating to Iraq in recent years. Back in 2007, he sponsored some key hearings in which he made an honest attempt to listen to, understand, and engage with the range of views of the elected parliamentarians in Iraq– including parliamentarians who were strong opponents of the US’s continued military presence there.
At a broader level, it’s important to note, too, that support for Israel has nearly always, historically, been a lot stronger in the Democratic Party here in the US, than in the Republican Party. If Lieberman and Ayalon now feel ready to treat four Democratic members of congress in such a humiliating way, that marks a sea-change in US-Israeli relations.
Of course, these four courageous members of Congress will need all the help they can get from fair-minded citizens in their own constituencies and around the country, because almost certainly the chorus of anti-J Street organizations in this country, from AIPAC on down, will most likely seek to punish them during the coming months as they seek the funds they’ll need to get re-elected next November.

IPS analysis of ‘Galbraith-gate’

It’s here, and also archived here.
Y’all know the story here already. (Renewed kudos to Reidar Visser for breaking it for all those of us who don’t read Norwegian… Reidar, I know I should have slotted in a quotoid from you there… Sorry that I didn’t.)
My conclusion in the IPS piece is,

    Here in the U.S., Galbraith has long been associated with the “liberal hawk” wing of the Democratic Party, which has argued since the early 1990s that U.S. military power can, and on occasion should, be used to impose a U.S.-defined human rights agenda in various parts of the world.
    Many members of this group have been liberal idealists – though some of those who, on “liberal” grounds, gave early support to Pres. George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq later expressed their regret for adopting that position.
    Galbraith has never expressed any such regrets, and last November, he was openly scornful of Bush’s late-term agreement to withdraw from Iraq completely. The revelation that for many years Galbraith had a quite undisclosed financial interest in the political breakup of Iraq may now further reduce the clout, and the ranks, of the remaining liberal hawks.

When I was researching the piece today, I was intrigued to see that until he took up his UN-Afghanistan position in March, Galbraith was a “Senior Diplomatic Fellow” at the DC-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, which occupies the currently fairly influential, soggy-left end of the spectrum of Washington’s power-connected think-tanks.
I really do hope that the revelation of Peter Galbraith’s sordid– and until recently painstakingly concealed– financial dealings with the KRG and DNO yet further diminishes the influence of liberal hawks in the US power elite and US society.

‘The Nation’ piece on AIPAC’s Tom Dine

This piece is online now, here. It was really fascinating to work on– just as it has been really interesting to work with Dine on the US-Syria Working Group, as is mentioned in the article.
Th Nation has two linked pieces– both by Phil Weiss and Adam Horowitz: American Jews Rethink Israel, and Israel vs. Human Rights.
Great work, Phil and Adam! I’m proud to be up there with you!

NYT studiously ignores Galbraith-DNO link

The NYT today carried a substantial article about the dispute over oil rights between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish regional government, including many mentions of the oil lease for the KRG’s Tawke field held by the Norwegian company DNO– and they managed to do that without making any mention of the other big aspect of this story that’s roiling the Norwegian press: namely, the fact that the US “cowboy diplomatic advisor” Peter Galbraith has been revealed to be a mystery shareholder in DNO.
Amazing. How could the NYT not mention this– especially given the amount of space the NYT has given to Galbraith’s own views in recent years, both on the op-ed page and as the subject of news articles, including recently?
There truly seems to be (as Reidar Visser and Steve Connors have noted in the comments section of of my earlier post on this topic) some kind of vow of omerta in the US MSM regarding Galbraith’s investing activities and the sharp conflicts of interest involved therein.
in the English-language media, the only other major people to have picked up on the story so far are Michael Rubin of The National Review (here and here) and the always excellent Paul Woodward of War in Context.
Meanwhile, Reaidar Visser has provided us with a fuller translation of the Oct. 10 article about Galbraith from Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
The article puts Galbraith’s involvement in the context of the dispute that has broken out between DNO, the KRG, and some former DNO shareholders, including the Connecticut-registered company “Porcupine”, of which Galbraith is a significant shareholder.
The DN journos have these quotes gathered from Galbraith, as they confronted him in the Norwegian city of Bergen where he has a home along with his Norwegian wife:

    1. “It is well known that I have worked for companies that invest in Iraq. I have pledged to maintain confidentiality concerning these relationships and cannot provide any more information.”
    2. “I have worked with companies investing in Iraq and of course the Kurdish authorities know about my relationships to my clients. That is all I want to say.”

Michael Rubin had done a little digging round and found some paragraphs about Galbraith and his financial interests in Iraqi Kurdistan in this January 2007 Al Kamen piece in the WaPo (scroll down):

    Former ambassador to Croatia Peter W. Galbraith, testifying last week at a Senate hearing about Iraq, noted that he’d been asked by committee staffers to “clarify my relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
    The query probably was sparked by rumors over the years that Galbraith was formally advising the Kurds. His biography is on the KRG’s “Kurdistan, The Other Iraq” Web site, which lists him as an “adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
    In his testimony, Galbraith said he’d “been friends of the Kurdish leaders and for that matter, other Iraqis, for a very long period of time, but I am not in a paid relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
    In an e-mail exchange Friday and Saturday, Galbraith wrote that he hadn’t seen the Web site and “to the extent that it implies a formal relationship with the KRG, it is inaccurate.” Galbraith wrote that he had been paid by “two Kurdish clients” for four months in late 2003-2004 for “either an educational program on negotiations or conducting a negotiation” — all outside this country.
    “I do not lobby or represent anyone in the U.S.,” he wrote, adding that he specifically noted this in his recent book on Iraq and explained there that the KRG has “provided security, accommodation and in-country transportation” when he visits.

So, he did not get paid in cash by the KRG. But was he given the shares in the DNO-KRG deal as some form of “recognition” for the work he did for the KRG?
Definitely worth asking more questions.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, over to you?

IPS piece: ‘Republicans Attack Obama on Palestine Policy’

… is here, and also archived here.
It deals primarily with Huckabee but also with other important US pols who went on partisanly sponsored junkets to Israel and the OPTs in recent weeks (Cantor, Hoyer, etc.)
I had some quotes in the piece from the J. Post’s Herb Keinon. He had an excellent piece of reporting in Thursday’s paper. It seems like he had accompanied Huckabee on some of his trips around various (completely illegal) Jewish settlements– including ones in occupied E. Jerusalem and one “unauthorized” settlement outpost.
He’s clearly making a bid for Evangelical grassroots support in the US and assuming that evangelicals are overwhelmingly pro-settler.
Herb Keinon is worth reading. It seems that he (in the form of the un-named “Israeli journalist” he refers to) couldn’t believe that an ultra-rightist like Huckabee might actually be someone with some influence/following in US politics…
Also definitely worth reading on Huckabee are Spencer Ackerman and Matt Duss (1 and 2.)