“States are cruel monsters” (attributed to de Gaulle) is one catchword about the tragedy of international politics; another is “who now remembers the annihilation of the Armenians” (said by Hitler, as he ordered his armies into Poland in 1939).
Some Americans feel troubled, even outraged, by Israel’s assault on Gaza, but most do not. The Gazans brought it on themselves by voting for Hamas, said a prominent New York rabbi, and a fair number of people agree with him. I’m sure many readers may feel angry and bitter at the sight of Israel using sophisticated American weapons to destroy a nearly defenseless people, but it’s a minority view. People have other concerns; many are actively pro-Israel, and would back Israel no matter what it did.
However there are some hard-headed and non-sentimental reasons to oppose the assault, for those unmoved by photographs of four-year-olds having their legs blown off as their Congress cheers and Israelis invent clever jingles about there being no school in Gaza because they’re no children left to attend. At Aspen over the weekend, at an important national security forum, Lieutenant General Michal Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that if the Israelis succeed in destroying Hamas, something worse will emerge from the rubble. He went on (in the CNN radio excerpt I heard; not cited in the print stories) to say that recruitment to jihadist groups had been spiking in the past weeks throughout the Muslim world, as the jihadis used images of Israeli killing of children to draw in young men from throughout the region. In short, it appears that Israel is acting the world’s principle recruitment agent for terrorism. Four years ago, David Petraeus said the Israel-Palestine conflict endangered American troops throughout the region, and now a comparably top national security figure asserts that Israel is threatening to bring to power worse groups in Gaza while implicitly recruiting terrorists throughout the Middle East.
American leaders certainly would deny they’re engaged in generations-long war against the Palestinians; any establishment figure in Washington would quickly point to the aid we’ve given the Palestinian Authority and the many efforts by the U.S. to facilitate peace negotiations. But one can understand why a Palestinian would come to that conclusion: we shield Israel from international sanction and censure in countless international bodies, give it more aid than we do to all of Africa combined, and provide it with everything from the Iron Dome to sophisticated jets—all to ensure that “qualitative military edge” we are now observing in action. Read More…
The two crises are distinct, but there is only one American government to navigate them, and it is doing poorly. Israel caught a good break when (presumably) Ukrainian separatists shot down a civilian airliner over Ukraine: for days it almost completely diverted the world’s attention. The shooting was almost certainly an accident: the rebels had previously shot down Kiev government troop carriers, and would have no conceivable reason to down a Malaysian civilian carrier. Killing 300 non-combatants is a horrific, if not unprecedented, act; the last time a tragedy of this scope occurred was when the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner in the Persian Gulf in 1988, mistaking it for a warplane.
Vladimir Putin, whose government supplied to the rebels the anti-aircraft missile, should acknowledge the error, and express regrets. Yet the source of the Ukraine crisis remains exactly what it was before the downing of MA-17: an aggressive Western move to wrest Ukraine into the Western sphere, culminating eventually in Ukrainian NATO membership. It was the West that encouraged and fomented the coup d’etat which ignited the Ukrainian civil war. The ever present-minded media tends to ignore or overlook this: perhaps the only mainstream American or European writer who strives to keep this context in the public mind is the redoubtable Peter Hitchens, whose regular column and blog in the Mail Online is one of the few mass media venues making any effort to understand the crisis historically.
Obama seems shrunken by the dual crisis. On Monday, he publicly hectored Vladimir Putin to compel the Ukrainian rebels to allow free access to the crash investigators (which of course they should); meanwhile the White House is cranking up new sanctions against Russia, whose main fault lies in having taken measures to prevent Ukraine from being turned into a NATO outpost. (Twenty years hence, if China is sponsoring anti-American coups in Mexico, the anti-Putin brigade may get a taste of how Putin feels.) What most grated about Obama’s statement was its patronizing tone. But its implicit assumption, that Moscow bears direct responsibility and should be punished for whatever the Ukrainian rebels do with weapons supplied to them merits some scrutiny.
If Moscow is responsible, how responsible then is America for the death toll Israel is ringing up in Gaza, which includes hundreds of innocent civilians, many of them children? Unlike the Ukrainian rebels, the Israelis are well trained and know exactly what they are doing. Do the senators who pass unanimous (100 to 0, North Korea style!) resolutions supporting Israel bear responsibility for Israel’s actions?
How responsible is John Kerry, who—in what bids fair to be the single most absurd sentence ever uttered by an American Secretary of State, says “Israel is under siege” by Hamas. Do you suppose Kerry knows what restrictions Israel imposes on Gaza, under “normal circumstances”? Israel controls the population of Gaza, deciding literally who gets in and who gets out. It controls whether Gazans can import spare parts for the devices to help purify their water. It controls whether Gazans can build an airport, or whether Gazans can leave to go to a university. Israel controls whether Gazan fisherman can fish in the seas. And yet, America’s leading diplomat, announces, with a straight face, that Israel is under siege by Hamas. Does Kerry realize that Hamas’s official ceasefire demands—which are of course never mentioned by the American media—are almost entirely devoted to lifting Israel’s siege of Gaza?
And yet one can see the glimmerings of an American media jailbreak. Read More…
At this writing, one Israeli has been killed by Hamas fire; hundreds of Hamas rockets have either fallen harmlessly or been destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense. The toll among Palestinians in Gaza is roughly 200 dead, and about 1,500 wounded. This then is not so much a war as a high-tech slaughter. Israel could kill Palestinians more rapidly of course, but seems to have judged it can go on at this pace, killing 15 to 2o a day, without provoking an international reaction. For some Israelis it is pure entertainment: yesterday The Independent reported that Israelis had set up couches and were serving popcorn to watch their air force’s destruction of Gaza’s homes from the nearby hills.
It is useful to try to construct a timeline, to understand how we got from Point A, the failure of the Kerry peace mission, to the present. My sympathies are more with the Palestinians subject to bombardment than with the Israelis who are bombarding them, but the timeline to be as objective as possible, so I would welcome reader suggestions of alterations, additions, or changes of emphasis.
1) March: Israel announces settlement expansion while negotiations are going on.
2) April 1, Negotiations break down. Israel refuses to comply with a scheduled and previously agreed-to release of prisoners. PA president Abbas announces PA will apply for membership in 15 UN organizations.
3) Abbas forms a “technocratic” unity goverment with Hamas.
4) May 2, American negotiators both on and off the record blame Israeli settlement construction as the main reason for the talks failure.
5) Both Western European countries and the U.S. ignore Netanyahu’s demands to sever their relations with the Fatah-Hamas “unity” government.
6) May 15, Israeli snipers kill two Palestinian boys in Beitunia, on the West Bank during Nakba day demonstrations. The killing was caught on video.
7) June 1, Netanyahu announces plans for 3,300 new housing units on the West Bank.
8) June 12, three Jewish Israeli teens are kidnapped and murdered on the West Bank. Netanyahu immediately claims Hamas is responsible, but gives no evidence. Hamas denies responsibility for the kidnappings. The Israeli government names two suspects, Hamas members from a Hebron clan which has previously been in disputes with Hamas leadership. It is soon reported that the government has known from the beginning the kidnapped teens have been shot. Israel goes on a campaign against Hamas on the West Bank, arresting 500 and raiding 1,500 schools and businesses.
9) June 30, Bodies of murdered Israeli teens found on the West Bank near Hebron.
10) July 2, Three Israelis kidnap and burn alive a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem. They are arrested within days.
11) July 3, Israeli police are caught on video beating up a Palestinian-American boy, the cousin of the murdered Palestinian. The photograph of his battered face are shown world-wide, and the U.S. State Department protested. Meanwhile several stories are published in Israel and the United States lamenting the violent and deeply racist currents running through Israeli culture, particularly its youth.
12) July 6, Israeli air force bombs a tunnel in Gaza, killing six Hamas men. The bombing ended a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had prevailed since 2011. Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets, and Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. Read More…
All things being equal, I should be fan of Yuval Levin. I haven’t read his Burke- Paine book, but I’ve read a fair amount of Edmund Burke in my day, and agree with Levin’s take on the importance in intellectual and political history of the Burke-Paine divide. I admire without reservation The Public Interest, the monkish domestic politics quarterly founded by Irving Kristol which made the first large footprints of neoconservativism. Levin has founded a journal, National Affairs, plainly intended to be the heir and successor to The Public Interest, devoted to domestic policy ideas. The magazine is a platform for so-called reform conservatism, a group sometimes labeled “reformicons,” which seeks to rethink conservative domestic policy options in a period of rising inequality and a shrinking and financially insecure middle class.
These are clearly the kinds of problems with which conservatives should be engaged. I concur with Levin and other “reformicons” that domestic conservatism, to be politically relevant, needs to move beyond simplistic tax-cutting and “government is the enemy” notions.
So why does Sam Tanenhaus’s prominently-placed piece about Levin and his cohorts in the Sunday New York Times magazine leave a queasy feeling? Levin (unsurprisingly depicted as “soft spoken” and “self-deprecating”) is described as “probably the pre-eminent conservative intellectual of the Obama era” by one prominent journalist (Jonathan Chait) and “a one-man Republican brain trust” by another (David Frum). The piece notes reformicon regrets about the defeat of their chief point person in Congress, former majority leader Eric Cantor, and offers a snippet about a New York Historical Society discussion of Levin’s book done with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.
The answer is pretty obvious. Tanenhaus presents to a wide general interest audience the “preeminent conservative intellectual of the Obama era” and yet erases from consideration the Iraq war or any other foreign policy question. So while it is true that Levin has interesting ideas about what’s wrong with Obama’s health care plan, we are left in the dark about whether he has thoughts about war and peace or America’s role in the world. Perhaps we can infer the answer from Levin’s association with some of the most prominent propagandists for that two-trillion dollar war of aggression, which, more than any war in America’s history, was a war conceived and successfully lobbied by intellectuals based in magazines and think tanks. Does Levin favor, as does Bill Kristol, starting a new American war against Iran? Does he favor, as also does Kristol, an American war against both the Sunni extremists in Iraq and their Iranian enemies at the same time? Would Levin deem such projects “Burkean”? I would be inclined to guess no, but then it is not especially reassuring to find Kristol and David Frum featured so prominently among Levin’s major boosters.
And then there is Eric Cantor. It is apt that the Richmond Republican should be described as one of the leaders of the “Young Guns”–a group of Republican congressmen most receptive to reformicon ideas. But he also holds the distinction of being the first House majority leader in American history to openly collaborate with the leader of a foreign power against the policies of an American president.
My first full-time job in journalism was with The National Interest, a publication founded and published by Irving Kristol as well, and edited by the Welsh-born Australian Owen Harries. The two magazines shared office space. Harries, as it happened, was also an admirer of Edmund Burke. Not infrequently, when the Cold War ended and the neoconservatives began to write chesty pieces about “the unipolar moment” and “benevolent global (American) hegemony” did Harries remind them of Burke’s cautious instincts in international affairs, his dread that Britain be too much feared for its own good.
Of course Yuval Levin, who has lived intellectually with Burke for years (the Burke-Paine book originated as his doctoral dissertation) is, if there can be such a thing, a genuine Burkean. But Levin’s rise in stature in domestic politics cannot help but elevate the reputations of his friends and backers–who seem to be, almost to a man, big backers of the Iraq war and neoconservative foreign policy in general. Virtually every individual mentioned as a Levin associate in Tanenhaus’s piece, save perhaps for Ramesh Ponnuru’s wife April and Michael Strain, was an active promoter of American aggression against Iraq, tub-thumping for the war or writing or editing articles impugning the patriotism of those who opposed it. Thus it is more than a little disconcerting to see neoconservatism be welcomed back into the public square under the false flag of Burkean moderation.
One can understand why neoconservatives and those influenced by them (which would include most of the editors and writers at National Review) are eager to have this history swept under the rug and forgotten. It is less easy to understand why Sam Tanenhaus would honor their wish by writing about the “preeminent conservative intellectual” of our era as if issues of war and peace were of no importance whatever.
I’ve spent the day reading Pat Buchanan’s The Great Comeback—his history cum memoir of Richard Nixon’s capture of the 1968 Republican nomination, and then the presidency. Buchanan was a key part of this. Hired as a 27-year-old who had spent three years writing newspaper editorials for the St. Louis Globe Democrat, Buchanan joined Nixon’s staff in 1966. He traveled with the candidate, handled much of his correspondence, wrote or drafted articles in his name, and wrote Nixon countless strategy memos, which came back with Nixon’s handwritten comments. This trove of historical documents was kept by Buchanan in several filing cabinets in his home, and after literally decades of entreaties by his agent Fredrica Friedman, Buchanan produced this book. It’s probably my favorite of Buchanan’s books, rich in Republican Party and journalistic gossip, full of insight into Nixon, and at the same time deeply personal.
At 27, a time when many young people then or now are in school or trying to figure out what they might really want to do , Buchanan had already compiled a formidable resume as right-wing newspaper editorialist; then in a deftly executed maneuver of ambition and nerve, arranged to meet Nixon and suggest himself for a get-on-the-bus-early campaign role. (He had actually met the former vice president a decade earlier, as a caddy at Burning Tree—a fact which he conveyed to Nixon in that first professional meeting. )
Buchanan was valuable to Nixon in great part as a representative of the New Right, that part of the GOP which had nominated Goldwater two years earlier. He and Nixon saw eye to eye that the next Republican candidate would have to represent the right, but probably not be of it. There was then at least the potential of Ronald Reagan looming, and a subtext of the book is the worry that the charismatic Reagan would somehow get untracked, and a deadlocked convention would be stampeded into going for the movie star governor. Nixon, by contrast, had no political sex appeal: he was deeply intelligent, hard working, fascinated by the issues and personalities of politics. (He seemed bored by the practice of law, and in one unguarded moment told Buchanan that if he had to practice law for the rest of his life he would be “mentally dead in two years and physically dead in four.”)
But one major hurdle to overcome was the sense that Nixon, after the 1960 campaign and his failed 1962 California gubernatorial bid, was a loser who could never win a national election. Liberals hated him for his early campaigns in California, and the left (where they weren’t the same thing) hated him for being right about Alger Hiss. But the right also (correctly) sensed that Nixon was not one of them. Buchanan quotes one Nixon memo where the candidate noted that he disagreed with liberal aides (who were urging him to get to the left of LBJ on various issues.) But he also said (to one of his more liberal aides) that “the trouble with the far right conservatives is that they don’t give a damn about people and the voters sense that.” Buchanan comments that this, too, was “authentic” Nixon. He notes that,
Nixon had grown up in poverty, lost two of his four brothers, one to meningitis, the other to tuberculosis, and likely did not look on the New Deal as taking us ‘down the road to socialism’ but as an effort to help folks like his family.
Part of Buchanan’s job was to smooth out the rough spots between this complicated man and the National Review-reading, Goldwater-admiring, Young Americans for Freedom-belonging Republican right. He did this effectively enough, causing Bill Rusher once to ask him whether he was more the right’s emissary to the Nixon camp, or Nixon’s to the right. The answer: the latter, always.
Romney and Rockefeller were more glamorous Republicans, generally more favored by the East Coast media, and they regularly scored higher in midterm presidential polls. But Nixon outworked them, in a Stakhanovite schedule of campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections, picking up IOU’s from congressmen and state committeemen all over the country. Eventually Romney and Rocky’s weaknesses displayed themselves. If you were ever of the age to once have wondered how it was that Nixon managed to become the Republican nominee in an era when there were few primary elections, Buchanan’s book is the best possible guide. Read More…
The invective is telling. The Presbyterian Church USA’s razor thin vote to divest from three American companies that aid the Israeli occupation is, opponents of the move tell us, irrelevant, because Presbyterians are irrelevant. The language used to make this point is not particularly ecumenical: here Rabbi Shmuley Boteach inveighs against the PC-USA’s vote by referring to the “rotting corpse of the Presbyterian church.” One suspects that if a prominent Presbyterian cleric used comparable language about a branch of Judaism, it would attract some negative attention.
To influence the general assembly vote of this allegedly “dying” and “irrelevant” denomination, Zionist groups mobilized like mad, chastising the resolution and coordinating with Presbyterian groups created to oppose it, like the misnamed “Presbyterians for Middle East Peace.” Opponents of the resolution more often than not claimed that while they didn’t like Israel’s policies either, they balked at taking even symbolic action to oppose them. Amorphous threats were cast by leading Jewish establishment figures. Presbyterians would become isolated as anti-Semites, some charged. The interfaith dialogue between Presbyterians and Jews would be “called into question.” (One wonders about the value of dialogue with people who consider you a “rotting corpse.”) The Israeli embassy implicitly accused the Presbyterians of supporting terrorism.
Prior to the vote, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, an organizer against the resolution, offered the Presbyterians a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if only they would vote it down. Presbyterian delegates would be able to tell Bibi himself, in person, why they opposed Israel’s West Bank settlement and occupation policies. How this was supposed to be a blockbuster negotiating sweetener somehow escapes. Did Rabbi Jacobs imagine that the Presbyterians believed that Netanyahu was unaware that many Americans opposed the occupation—and his readiness to give 45 minutes of his time to the Presbyterians might indicate an open mind? Please, there are no Presbyterians so stupid.
Internal Presbyterian politics move at a glacial pace, with an almost ponderous attention to procedure and internal democracy. The divestment resolution, crafted to target only three American companies, which directly aid Israel’s illegal occupation, has been in the works for years. Two years ago, it came up short by two votes. Presbyterian concern about the suppression of Palestinian rights is of longer duration, the fruit of fact-finding missions and study groups dating to the aftermath of the 1967 war. Because endorsing even symbolic measures against Israel was such an emotionally wrenching step, it took a very long time for any measures to be taken.
Among the occupation’s defenders and apologists, the most common strategy was to mock Presbyterians as an irrelevant church. Few tried to defend Israeli policies, knowing that they would not be persuasive. But calling attention to the numerical decline of the Presbyterian church touches on interesting subjects. All mainline Protestant churches are in decline since their heyday, which could be loosely dated at sometime between the 1920s and the 1950s. Protestantism, or to be more precise, liberal establishment Protestantism, used to be something of a state religion in America. Protestant clerics were widely quoted, featured on the covers of news magazines. Time magazine (itself widely read) ran a weekly “religion” feature, which more often than not circulated Protestant ideas and covered the comings and goings of mainline church luminaries. Presidents sought their advice, or at least claimed to.
That day is past: Read More…
A critical moment of the TAC-sponsored New Internationalism conference occurred when Daniel Drezner said that a key debate in the months ahead will be over whether Washington fears more an ISIS state in parts of Iraq and Syria (or even an ISIS seizure of Baghdad) or the rise of Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf. If I had been quicker to the microphone, I would have asked how could this even be a debate? One hears echoes of the phrase “moral clarity,” a neoconservative catchword of the Cold War era, which always made less sense when they sought to apply it to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But though a polemical term, it’s not meaningless, and what would it mean here?
It should be obvious: Iran is complex country, with both secular and religious leaders, a semi-democracy whose rulers are influenced by public opinion, where there are meaningful competitive elections. It is certainly not free, there are far too many political prisoners and arbitrary arrests, but its level of democracy compares favorably to, say, China. It is quite modern, has a middle class, a scientific infrastructure, is a producer of world-class films and cuisine.
ISIS is by contrast barbaric, the ideological offspring of those who brought down the twin towers. The group wants to introduce sharia to the regions it rules, and commits mass murder and brags about it. Iran has been long been accused of sponsoring terrorism, but Shi’ite terrorism has always been a different animal than Sunni terrorism, less suicidal, less messianic, more like the terrorism of say, the IRA—brutal means against specific targets for concrete political aims.
People who know the Mideast better than I argue that American air strikes and drone strikes won’t bring the end of ISIS—and there is rightly no desire to re-send an American army to seize and try to hold hold the major Sunni population centers of Iraq. Joint Iranian-American military action would potentially play into the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda—alienating the many Sunni Muslims who are right now politically on the fence. When Hillary Mann Leverett, the former NSC aide and State Department official, and as outspoken an advocate of American outreach and detente with Iran as exists in Washington, pours cold water on the idea of American-Iranian military cooperation, I tend to listen. Retired ambassador and Mideast expert Chas Freeman makes a similar point: America has no good military options. Rushing arms to Maliki’s government would ensure that they eventually get used against us, captured and/or sold by corrupt Iraqi forces. Read More…
Of course it isn’t yet clear what Eric Cantor’s stunning and decisive defeat at the hands of an unknown challenger with one twentieth the campaign funds means for the direction of the House GOP. On domestic issues, including immigration, Cantor has been a chameleon—an establishment figure, a reformer, a “young gun,” a Tea Party insurgent with legislative tactician skills, a supporter of immigration reform (aka amnesty), and then a professed opponent of the same immigration reform. (I should note there was a time, in the 1990s, when immigration “reform” meant tightening the borders and tinkering with the legal immigration system so it was more skills-based, less based on “your brother’s wife got in a few years ago, so you are now eligible for a visa.”) The only ads I’ve seen from David Brat, the surprising victor, attacked Cantor’s readiness to hang out with big-money immigration boosters (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) while ignoring the labor market and wage impact large-scale immigration has for voters in his district.
One issue wasn’t talked about, though I wonder if it subliminally registered with some anti-Cantor voters. Cantor in 2010 more or less presented himself as Bibi Netanyahu’s congressman. Newly elevated by the GOP House takeover as the incoming majority leader, he held a private meeting with the Likud leader at the New York Regency. No other Americans were present; Netanyahu was joined by Israel’s ambassador and national security advisor.
It was a tense time in American-Israeli relations: the Obama administration was pushing hard for progress on peace talks and trying to get Israel to stop expanding settlements on the West Bank during the negotiations, an idea vigorously resisted by Israel’s government. During the meeting, Cantor gave Netanyahu assurances that the House would have his back in any showdown with the Obama administration. The Republicans, he told Bibi, “understand the special relationship” and would obstruct American initiatives which made Israel uncomfortable. Ron Kampeas, a veteran and centrist observer of U.S.-Israeli relations, said he could not “remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president.” So Cantor was, in his way, making history.
The ties to Israel made Cantor popular in the GOP caucus. Cantor could raise money more easily than other southern congressmen—from pro-Israel billionaires, for example—and spread it around. Sheldon Adelson poured millions into his PAC. Cantor knew his way around the Regency.
More recently, Cantor has spearheaded House opposition to Obama’s negotiations with Iran, speaking frequently of Iran in terms that echo Netanyahu. His Mideast positions track completely with Likud’s, whether it be aid to the Syrian rebels or aid to Egypt after the Sisi coup. He may be hard to pin down domestic issues, one day a moderate, another a hard rightist, but he is always a hawk—whether it be Ukraine or Syria or Iran, he will be a force pushing the most belligerent policies.
I wonder if this registered in the district in some ways. Pat Lang, of the interesting Sic Semper Tyrannis blog, meditated on Cantor (his congressmen) several years ago, wondering whether this sophisticated Richmond lawyer was a natural fit for a district that trends barbecue. Some have pointed to an ethnic angle, which could well be a factor. But it may be simply that conservative southern Republicans are beginning to get tired of neocons telling them they have to prepare to fight another war. Antiwar Republican Walter Jones won his North Carolina primary earlier this spring, standing strong against a major media assault by Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel. Now, in an election result that stunned political observers more than anything that happened in their lifetime, Cantor goes down before an underfunded Tea Party candidate.
We’ll see what happens with David Brat, but he’s already made history.
I’ve been skimming Hillary Clinton’s State Department memoir Hard Choices, which stands at more than 600 pages. The massive tome, the product of Hillary and her “book team,” is in its way extremely skillful. Throughout the book Hillary appears engaged, intelligent, tough, compassionate—all qualities she obviously wants to project—while effectively muting any controversy that might be politically inconvenient as she pursues her next project. As we know, Hillary has no particular accomplishments as Secretary of State: she traveled extensively, and is able to describe in impressive detail various rooms and furnishings and personages. It has never been reported that she said anything embarrassing to herself or the country. But I haven’t found anything remotely like a “hard choice.” There was no moment when Hillary was in the White House situation room, trying to break down for a president the options about missiles in Cuba; no effort to brainstorm about escalation in Vietnam, or to decide whether Gorbachev was the real thing.
She supports the two-state solution of Israel-Palestine—though of course, as the administration’s commonly used phrase had it, “not more than the parties themselves”. She says nice things about former senator George Mitchell (Obama’s appointee as head Mideast peace processor—who was genuinely committed to a two-state solution) and also Dennis Ross, the epitome of a faux peace process-er who served, more or less, as Israel’s lawyer from his various appointments close to the center of power. The conflict between the two men was important and much speculated upon, but Hillary says not a word about it. Even those who want to attack Hillary from the perspective of the Israeli Right can’t find much to complain about: The Emergency Committee for Israel is running ads condemning her for not objecting publicly when John Kerry said Israel risked becoming an apartheid state. They can’t find anything in her actual record to fault.
And indeed what could there be? The peace process in the Middle East was doomed so long as Americans insisted it would strive to be even-handed between the military occupier and the occupied: this is about as sensible as the Justice Department facilitating even-handed talks between segregated blacks and the Mississippi power structure in 1960. If you want to change the situation, you have to acknowledge the power discrepancies and weigh in to equalize them. There was not the shadow of a chance Hillary would have favored that. Obama apparently believed that making speeches would suffice to change Israeli behavior.
The one place in her narrative where Hillary seems truly energized about a policy matter is lobbying UN member states to support tough sanctions on Iran. I suspect that when she enters the campaign trail she will tout this as her signal achievement—whatever happens with current negotiations. “She was tough enough to bring Iran to its knees.” might be the slogan. A thoughtful Secretary of State, writing at the end of his or her career, might speculate on why Iran would want a nuclear program—and presumably the potential to build a weapon. That question would be at the center of any serious foreign policy analysis. But there is none of that—no history, no mention of the American-supported attack on Iran by Saddam Hussein, or Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons into the region.
The prominence of Hillary, and more, the absence of anyone who is willing to challenge her quest for the Democratic nomination, is a depressing indication about the state of the Democratic Party and the country. It tells us that there is no lasting impact of the Iraq war on elite Democratic party attitudes, it might as well have never happened. A couple of trillion dollars when the wounded veteran care is factored in. A million Iraqis homeless and refugees. Not only has Hillary not learned any lessons; no one else of prominence has either. There is no rethinking whether the United States needs to be poking its nose militarily in every spot in the globe—not by Hillary certainly, but seemingly not by any other leading Democrat, either.
Andy Bacevich’s Washington Rules contains substantial segments quoting Democratic senators prominent in the 1960s, especially Bill Fulbright and Mike Mansfield. At the time there were several top lawmakers seeking to figure out what went wrong—how we became immersed in Vietnam with no good way out, what that said about American attitudes, hubris, and self-delusion. There is eloquence there, and probing intelligence. There is none of that kind of soul-searching going on now on Capitol Hill, at least at the Senate level. Hillary Clinton, for her obvious wonkishness and impressive grasp of detail, certainly isn’t engaged in it. The sad thing is, no one seems to want her to be.
It’s conniption time on Capitol Hill, as the Obama administration is demonstrating quietly there will be at least some consequences for stonewalling the administration’s effort actually to forge, or at least begin to forge, a two-state peace settlement in Israel-Palestine. The first shoe to drop was a State Department spokesperson’s almost passive acknowledgement that no, the United States is not going to cut off all relations with the Palestinian Authority because of its efforts to heal its breach with Hamas by forming a unity “technocratic” government.
Israel has been complaining loudly, along with its allies in Congress. Its stated objections are two-fold: Hamas rejects the two state solution, and in many of its public statements, calls for the end of Israel; Hamas has committed terrorist acts against Israeli civilians, particularly in late 1990s as the Oslo process was winding down.
These are obviously serious issues: there won’t be a two-state solution if the Palestinian side doesn’t seek one, with all the recognition of Israel’s permanence that such a solution implies. But wait a second. The United States has obviously been willing to deal with Israel’s government—more than deal with it, subsidize it, treat it as a valued strategic ally, etc.—despite the fact that Israel’s Likud Charter calls for Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank, and Israel’s government includes ministers who themselves are sworn enemies of the two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election platform called explicitly for there to be no Palestinian state on the West Bank and for exclusive Israeli control over Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s coalition partner Naftali Bennett has long called for Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank, perhaps leaving the Palestinian towns as “self-governed” bantustans. If the congressmen now jumping up and down about the inclusion of Hamas “technocrats” in a unity Palestinian government raised any objection when an Israeli government included ministers calling for annexation of the West Bank and no Palestinian state, they did so very quietly.
Terrorism is also a serious issue. But, sad to say, there are many leaders and factions in the Mideast who have engaged in terrorism, including, of course former Israeli prime ministers and Likud leaders Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Beyond the Mideast, IRA leaders are welcome in Washington, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If they seek them, Palestinians can find numerous precedents for the evolution from terrorist to freedom fighter to venerated statesman.
We are left to acknowledge the beginnings of a real breach between American policies and those of Israel. American politicians will deny it: John Kerry has said again and again, there must be “no daylight” between Washington and Israel—Kerry reiterated the phrase just last year. But the phrase has begun to sound false, more and more like the ritualistic protests of a couple on the way to a break-up. Read More…