I talked about it yesterday, but to reiterate, this is an action blessed by the UN and Arab League – and no one else. But there are those among our leadership who see it as a precedent to pretty much do whatever we want under the principle espoused by the UN – “Right to Protect” or R2P. This new “principle”, according to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, gives the UN the “right” to go after governments that are killing their own citizens. And not just with aircraft (something Sec. of State Clinton used to differentiate what was happening in Libya and Syria as an excuse not to move on Syria).
To illustrate my point, one only has to go to the Sunday shows for an example:
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said the events transpiring in Libya should send a strong message to the Syrian dictator.
“If he turns his weapons on his own people, he runs the risk,” Mr. Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“There is a precedent now. … We’re not going to allow Assad to slaughter his own people.”
Of course my first question is “who is ‘we’, Mr. Lieberman?”
In the case of Libya, certainly not the American people. They were never consulted (though their representatives). If ever there was a unilateral decision to go to war, this provides the example.
Secondly, this is precisely what the Neo-cons were accused of championing – and it now seems it has evolved as a policy of the Obama administration. The irony is incredible. Especially after we saw the same administration pretend like the slaughter of protesters in Iran by the government was something to essentially ignore.
And I can’t help but observe that this smacks of more than anything is international bullying. Pick on a weak country that displeases others for whatever reason, come up with a high sounding reason to intervene and go to war. Who you are backing and what they are or stand for isn’t as much of a priority as establishing the precedent of the “right” to act internationally without worrying about those pesky legal impediments such as Constitutions and such. But if the country is strong militarily or has supporters in the region (Syria and the Arab League), make excuses for not applying the same standard to them. That’s precisely what we’re seeing with Syria.
One of the laugh out loud reasons for not applying the same standard to Syria was Clinton’s contention that the Syrian dictator Assad is a “reformer”.
That had the Syrian protesters shaking their head in wonder.
Ammar Abdulhamid, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman in the West for the activists organizing the Syrian protests, said, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrong to refer to Syrian President Bashar Assad as a reformer on CBS News on Sunday.
“It was ridiculous to call Bashar Assad a reformer. She should not have done that,” he said.
I’m reminded of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recent speech at West Point where he said that any president who committed us to another war in the Middle East should have his head examined.
Frankly, I agree. The unfortunate thing is this “precedent” as Joe Lieberman correctly identifies it, sets us up to commit to an unlimited number of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – just so we manage to get a sanction of some sort of NGO or another in the process. We’re officially in the “others volunteering our military” business, the “world policeman’s league” with this action – and as I understood it that was something Democrats and left objected too strenuously.
What happened to that?
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
Ross Douthat, who I rarely quote, manages to nail it in terms of Libya and the left:
In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.
One minor correction, there is no – none, zip, nada – connection, not even a tenuous one, to American national security and the war on Libya. There may be afterward, if Gadhafi survives and decides he needs to find a way to strike back at the US in the “long war” he’s promised to wage. But going in? Nope – none.
The quote above fought with this other Douthat quote for top QotD honors:
But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.
And keep in mind that once the first Tomahawk flew, whether we call our participation limited and of short duration, we’re into it up to our hips as far as the Arab world is concerned. So whatever happens there which might turn the “Arab street” against the US yet again, any argument made by the administration that most of the mission has been conducted by others isn’t going to change a single mind.
Also keep in mind, as Douthat implies, that this “consensus war” depends on the committee who are conducting it staying together. Can’t have them deserting and then renouncing the Western powers committed to seeing this through – can we? Already the Arab League is a bity antsy.
Finally – watch for mission creep. The ostensible reason for this little foray is humanitarian. But then, so was Somalia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
I predict there will be boots on the ground, whether ours or others. It will become necessary if I have any read on Gadhafi at all. Why? Because he will precipitate a humanitarian crisis of some sort – on purpose.
Then what? What if he forces a “put up or shut up” moment?
Well the fair weather supporters will go home, that’s a given. And those who see a downside risk politically will go home. And I promise you the Arab members will say bye bye.
And who will that leave to deal with it?
The two quotes from Douthat are very instructive in understanding the liberal philosophy of war and why it is dangerously utopian, likely to fail and not at all in the best interests of this country, or any country, to pursue.
If you haven’t met your irony quotient for the day, here’s our present Secretary of State while a former Senator talking about the “civil war” in Iraq and how we should not take part in what is going on no matter the level of the violence:
“No one wants to sit by and see mass killing,” she added. “It’s going on every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity I can imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem — we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."
Of course that was then … apparently Libya is an international problem, not a Libyan problem, and we can save the Libyans from themselves, unlike the Iraqis.
Of course …
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
It was made without the apparent participation of the United States in the early decision making process. From Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meetings in Paris with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday left her European interlocutors with more questions than answers about the Obama administration’s stance on intervention in Libya.
Inside the foreign ministers’ meeting, a loud and contentious debate erupted about whether to move forward with stronger action to halt Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s campaign against the Libyan rebels and the violence being perpetrated against civilians. Britain and France argued for immediate action while Germany and Russia opposed such a move, according to two European diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.
Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration’s position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.
"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.
Clinton’s unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.
"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."
I’m beginning to understand the phrase "above the fray" or "stayed out of the fray" as essentially means refusing to involve or commit to anything much less make a decision. And that’s precisely what happened at the G8 meeting.
What worried diplomats even more was this:
On the same day, Clinton had a short meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which Sarkozy pressed Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya. She declined Sarkozy’s request, according to a government source familiar with the meeting.
Sarkozy told Clinton that "we need action now" and she responded to him, "there are difficulties," the source said, explaining that Clinton was referring to China and Russia’s opposition to intervention at the United Nations. Sarkozy replied that the United States should at least try to overcome the difficulties by leading a strong push at the U.N., but Clinton simply repeated, "There are difficulties."
One diplomat, who supports stronger action in Libya, contended that the United States’ lack of clarity on this issue is only strengthening those who oppose action.
That “lack of clarity” can be translated as a lack of leadership on the issue. Casting around in the G8 minister’s meeting for some sort of consensus toward action or inaction, both sides looked to the US to commit. It simply refused to do so. Whether you support or oppose a NFZ, you have to be concerned that we had no strategy or apparent game plan when we entered that meeting.
Hillary Clinton tries to spin it as it being a matter of venue:
In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday in Cairo, Clinton pointed to the U.N. Security Council as the proper venue for any decision to be made and she pushed back at the contention by the British and the French that the U.S. was dragging its feet.
"I don’t think that is fair. I think, based on my conversations in Paris with the G-8 ministers, which, of course, included those two countries, I think we all agree that given the Arab League statement, it was time to move to the Security Council to see what was possible," Clinton said. I don’t want to prejudge it because countries are still very concerned about it. And I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something. But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done and can be passed."
"It won’t do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it," Clinton added.
But that is patent nonsense. You had most of the movers and shakers there. In fact, it was the prefect venue to get preliminary negotiations underway, make a case one way or the other and then use the UN as the final place to seal the deal. Diplomacy 101.
Now, this is important – note the day the BBC interview was done: Wednesday. Note the day the G8 meeting was: Monday.
So what happened Tuesday?
At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?
The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.
"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.
You may be saying, “wohoo, he finally made a freakin’ decision”. Well yeah, he could see how it was going and he could see where it would probably end up, so you have to wonder, was it a decision or was it more of a rationalization?
My guess it was the latter. And it is the third “strategy” for the region that the US has displayed in as many months.
But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.
"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."
Bingo – Clemons is dead on the money. There is no well thought out strategy for the Middle East – this is just someone winging it, figuring out where world (or regional opinion lies) and giving himself enough space for deniability should something go wrong. The cool kids in the world want to bomb Libya, so hey, we should probably do it too now that they’re committed – but we shouldn’t be seen as leading it in case it turns out badly”.
The rationalization for backing the action comes from the realization that it is probably going to happen, and unlike the US, France and the UK aren’t going to let Russia and Germany decide it for them without ever engaging in a fight.
So we now trot out our 3rd “realignment” of “our interests and values”? Really? Pray what are they? And what were they?
Clemons point about the fact that this points to a reactive presidency shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s part of leadership, or lack thereof. Leaders have a strategy and a plan. You may not like it, but they have one. And since it has to do with foreign affairs, it should address the best interests of the US. Three different strategies driven by who knows what in a three month period does not argue for a comprehensive or coherent strategy, much less a plan.
This is the ultimate in finger in the wind diplomacy and another in a long line of indicators highlighting the dangerous lack of leadership under which this country is now suffering.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
In a defense of the State Department budget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says “we are in an information war and we’re losing that war”.
Further, Clinton claimed that the private media isn’t up to the task of winning it saying, “Our private media cannot fill that gap”.
The message – we need more money for government propaganda and media.
Interestingly she then goes on to cite a private media network as “winning”:
"Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened up a global English language and multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English language network. I’ve seen it in a couple of countries and it’s quite instructive."
There is a place (and need) for government propaganda and it isn’t on a private media network (although in some cases you’d be hard pressed to believe that given that some of our private news networks seem to be entities dedicated to the unquestioning republishing of government press releases). So propaganda operations should be conducted via government means – many of which are in place today.
Clinton seems to be calling for a government news network to compete with other government news networks (Russian and Chinese). Yet she uses Al Jazeera as the example of who is winning the information war.
Al Jazeera is kicking butt in the coverage of the Middle East and N. Africa. If you haven’t checked out their live blogs, you’re missing the inside scoop. For instance did you know that Hugo Chavez has offered to mediate the crisis in Libya and Gadhafi has accepted (I’m not sure what that means, since there is no mention of the other side in this mediation, but still).
But Clinton is doing a little bait and switch – Al Jazeera (private) is kicking the US (private) media’s rear when it comes to ME coverage, the US media (private) is not up to the job, therefore we need more money to set up a government outlet (what?).
Yeah, nothing could go wrong with that, could it?
And again, more government (and more spending) is the answer to a perceived private sector deficit (Al Jazeera is located in the ME – that’s their beat).
Of course all of this sort of depends on how you define the function of a news organization, doesn’t it? Sounds to me that Ms. Clinton thinks they should be “aiding and abetting” government in the functions it deems important – like propaganda. And they should be covering the stories she deems important. She’s not at all pleased with how the media here has covered the news in the Middle East apparently.
And then there was this little nugget:
“Our private media, particularly cultural programming often works at counter purposes to what we truly are as Americans. I remember having an Afghan general tell me that the only thing he thought about Americans is that all the men wrestled and the women walked around in bikinis because the only TV he ever saw was Baywatch and World Wide Wrestling."
So because some Afghan general prefers to see grown men wrestle and beautiful women prance around in bikinis, our private media is deficient and presents a picture that is at "counter purposes to what we truly are as Americans". Sounds like someone really, really, really wants a government propaganda channel set up so we can present what we "truly are as Americans". My bet, though, is that Afghan general will still be watching wrestling and bikinis when all is said and done … and spent.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
As Egypt burns: has the administration picked a side? And some on the left are still in “moon pony” land about the Muslim Brotherhood and the potential for a Muslim state emerging
I’m not sure how you might interpret this, but it seems to me, given what Secretary Hillary Clinton has been saying, that we’ve picked a side in Egypt.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Sunday for “an orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt, stopping short of telling its embattled president, Hosni Mubarak, to step down but clearly laying the groundwork for his departure.
Granted it doesn’t tell Mubarak to give it up, it certainly doesn’t openly support the protesters, but make no mistake, in diplo-speak, this is pretty close to doing both. I’m not judging it one way or the other, I’m just sayin’.
Stipulating that, who does the administration think will lead the transition to that country having more “economic and political freedom?”
Well, she doesn’t say, but my guess is the administration would find Mohammad ElBaradei to be an acceptable choice. The question is does he really have the support to actually take power or, as many worry, if Mubarak flies off to Saudi Arabia – the country of choice for ousted dictators – will ElBaradei suddenly find himself on the outside looking in as more powerful factions compete for control?
Of course, there are those on the left here who are pretty sure that the Muslim Brotherhood running some sort of anti-American Muslim state is just a myth and nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, in the real world, Haarretz reports:
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group,is in talks with other anti-government figures to form a national unity government without President Hosni Mubarak, a group official told DPA on Sunday.
Gamal Nasser, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, told DPA that his group was in talks with Mohammed ElBaradei – the former UN nuclear watchdog chief – to form a national unity government without the National Democratic Party of Mubarak.
The group is also demanding an end to the draconian Emergency Laws, which grant police wide-ranging powers The laws have been used often to arrest and harass the Islamist group.
Nasser said his group would not accept any new government with Mubarak. On Saturday the Brotherhood called on President Mubarak to relinquish power in a peaceful manner following the resignation of the Egyptian cabinet.
So the moves within the opposition are beginning to become visible. Meanwhile useful idiots like ElBaradei are necessary to calm the rest of the world to give the “revolution” an acceptable face until power can be consolidated. And leave it to ElBaradei to cooperate fully, given the hubris of the man:
Speaking to CNN later Sunday, ElBaradei said he had a popular and political mandate to negotiate the creation of a national unity government.
"I have been authorized — mandated — by the people who organized these demonstrations and many other parties to agree on a national unity government," he told CNN.
A couple of things to remember – the Muslim Brotherhood has been the opposition in Egypt, not ElBaradei. The MB is closely identified with the revolutionary nationalism that is now evident, ElBaradei has been in “exile”. The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned from having seats in the Egyptian Parliament, yet they’ve still successfully run candidates as “independents” to capture a portion of seats.
Also remember that Egyptian prisons have been the incubators of Islamic jihad and that the MB has been well represented in those prisons.
Or, to put it more succinctly, look for the MB to make its moves when Mubarak is safely out of the country and the consolidation of power is near complete (and one way they will do that is by refusing Mubarak’s party any part in a new government). At that point, Mr. Useful, ElBaradei, may not be useful enough to keep around as the MB will be powerful enough to control Egypt without caring much how acceptable they seem to the rest of the world.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
A blurb from the Washington Post that I find somewhat ironic:
Obama’s return to Washington from 10 days in Martha’s Vineyard and a quick stop in New Orleans to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will begin with an address to the nation marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Days later, he will preside over the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks in Washington.
Both events offer Obama some political opportunities to help end a frustrating summer on a more positive note. But each is fraught with expectations that could prove difficult to meet in the long run, especially as the White House begins planning a reelection campaign next year.
And a week-long focus on foreign policy — timing driven largely by events outside of the president’s control — could seem oddly out of step during an election season that has been dominated by concerns over the national economy.
I guess “political opportunities” is in the eye of the beholder. The Post goes on to say that the timing of the foreign policy events is mostly “outside of the president’s control” meaning, obviously with the elections in November rapidly approaching, one would normally not look to foreign policy as a place he would gather “political momentum” as the Post’s title says.
There are a couple of reasons for that in Obama’s case. First he’s probably the least qualified president we’ve ever had in the foreign policy arena. Certainly the most inexperienced. And to this point, it’s rather difficult to point to any achievements in that area. So it seems to me to be a good deal of wishing and hoping by the Post’s Michael Shear if he thinks this is the arena in which lay Obama’s best chance for gathering “political momentum” again.
Secondly, Iraq can hardly be considered an accomplishment of his administration. The drawdown has been accomplished there in accordance with a timeline negotiated and agreed to (the SOFA agreement) by the Bush administration, before Obama ever took office. Ironically, we never hear Obama saying he inherited that.
As for the peace talks in the Middle East, it will most likely be the usual political theater with little accomplished. Turkey’s entrance into the ME debate on the side of the Arabs has had, I would think, a very profound effect on the possibility of such negotiations succeeding. I don’t think that impact is yet fully understood, but I suspect we’ll get an inkling of that when these talks begin.
If foreign policy is Obama’s best hope for regaining political momentum, then he’s in real political trouble.
Speaking of irony, this also caught my eye:
Forty-eight percent (48%) of U.S. voters now regard President Obama’s political views as extreme. Forty-two percent (42%) place his views in the mainstream, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
By comparison, 51% see the views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as mainstream. Thirty-five percent (35%) think Clinton’s views are extreme. Fourteen percent (14%) are undecided.
Incredible to think that the person who first tried to nationalize health care is seen as less extreme than the guy who did. The poll speaks to a possibility though. If Obama’s job approval numbers continue to decline (now at 43%) and if the numbers that consider him extreme continue to climb, I can see a possible challenge from the left in 2012 from Hillary Clinton.
And, btw, if there are any “successes” in foreign policy, you can bet that Ms. Clinton will be sure that she gets her share of the credit.
But you have to chuckle a bit about the noted poll numbers – Hillary Clinton, who was certainly regarded by at least a plurality and possibly a majority of being an extreme leftist is now considered by the majority as being “mainstream”? I guess that’s relatively true in the context of Mr. Obama, but I doubt that it is true in reality. She’s hidden herself well – ideologically speaking – these last few years, you have to give her that.
Oh, and speaking of extremist views, the Rasmussen poll didn’t just concentrate on Democrats:
Among five top contenders for the White House in 2012, only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is viewed as more extreme than the president. Just 38% say Palin’s views are mainstream, while 55% regard them as extreme.
Mitt Romney, the ex-Massachusetts governor who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, is considered mainstream by 45% and extreme by 33%. Twenty-two percent (22%), however, are not sure about his views.
Forty-four percent (44%) say the views of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, another unsuccessful 2008 GOP hopeful, are in the mainstream. Thirty-eight percent (38%) think Huckabee is extreme, and another 18% are not sure.
It’s important to note that the questions did not define “mainstream” or “extreme.”
Love the last line – yup, I guess “extreme” is something only an individual can define based on his personal ideology (and we all have them). It is like pornography – you know extreme when you see extreme.
Anyway, back to Obama and foreign policy. If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t bank on foreign policy being the area that pulls his political fortunes out of the ditch. He’s certainly, to this point, shown us nothing that would indicate he has a grasp on the situations around the globe and much to demonstrate he hasn’t. I can’t imagine how his political momentum is going to be restarted in an area in which he spends so little time and effort.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
An odd set of circumstances and an ill timed Israeli announcement has evoked a very high profile and seemingly bitter denunciation of Israel by the US. And, instead of stepping it down, after the initial condemnation, the US seems to be continuing to step it up.
It all comes after a visit to Israel by VP Joe Biden coincided with an Israeli announcment that it had approved the construction of 1600 housing units in Jerusalem. The US chose to take that personally – literally. Variously described as an “insult”, a “slap in the face” and “affront” to the Vice President and the administration, the problem was escalated by a phone call by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to PM Benjamin Netanyahu. This weekend David Axelrod kept the controvery alive on the Sunday talk shows.
So what’s up with all of this? Certainly its fair to say that Biden was embarrassed by the announcement, something he had no idea was going to be made, much less coincide with his visit. And it is certainly clear, after you read about the announcment and how it was made, that no one was more embarrassed and surprised than Netanyahu. As he’s admitted subsequently, that it was ill timed and shouldn’t have been made while Biden was there.
End of problem? Hardly. It continues to grow, fester and escalate. But the announcement, other than its timing, isn’t something which should surprise anyone. We’re not talking about the West Bank here – where Israel has promised not to build. We’re talking about East Jerusalem in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood. It is an area over which Israel has adamently refused to negotiate. This is not something of which the US is unaware:
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Thursday defended Israel’s decision to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, saying sovereignty over the capital has never been negotiable and that Israel would not make any more concessions for peace.
Again, if true that “sovereignty over the capital has never been neotiable” why, other than the diplomatic embarrassment, has the decision suddenly become a matter of concern soliciting demands from Clinton to include one that reverses the housing decision?
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary thinks that part of the reaction is simply indicative of the personality of this administration. Its temperment, if you will:
It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.
The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.
I certainly think that’s part of it. But it still doesn’t explain it all. That’s more about style – and while I think it is a fair description of this administration’s style, I’m still not convinced that answers the mail in this regard. As Rubin goes on to remind us, 15 years ago the official US policy declared that Jerusalem should be the “undivided capital of Israel”. It seems a little odd to get this excited about the internal zoning decisions concerning that city if that’s our policy.
So what else is it? How does an embarrassing situation become escalated into a diplomatic confrontation with an ally? Well, there’s an interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine that says it is much more than just a matter of embarrassment. And, if I read it correctly, the US was, most likely, looking for the diplomatic equivalent of a fight with Israel if this is true:
On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. “Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,” a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. “America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.“
You connect the dots. Was this rather minor problem the perfect excuse to try and recover our image of strength? As many of us have been saying, 2009 was a year of assessment when other world leaders took stock of the new administration. It looks like the Arab world’s verdict is in.
The briefing went further to say that the weakness and Israeli “intransigence” (as described by the various Arab leaders) was actually putting the lives of our soldiers in the CENTCOM theater at further risk.
This briefing and its revelations has been mostly unreported, although Jake Tapper did hint at it when questioning David Axelrod on ABC’s “This Week”:
TAPPER: All right, last question. Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem. President Obama was said to be very upset about it. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it. Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk? And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?
AXELROD: Well, look, what happened there was an affront. It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing. What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process. We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.
Israel is a strong and special ally. The bonds run deep. But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave. That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president. I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.
TAPPER: I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?
AXELROD: I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms. But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.
Tapper raised the issue brought up by the CENTCOM briefing and Axelrod simply avoided it.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians have taken the escalated diplomatic row as an excuse to bail on the peace talks again much to no one’s surprise.
Is this row all about posturing for the Arabs in reaction to the findings of the CENTCOM briefing? Is it an attempt to strengthen our image in those circles? If so this is a pretty poor way of doing that. It accepts the premise that Israel is the only problem and therefore it is only Israel that must concede to solve the problem. Read Clinton’s demands if you doubt that’s not the case. It also identifies as a problem something that has previously never been considered one.
In the meantime, much like the people of the US, Arab leaders are not going to be impressed by only talk – something the administration is long on. It is going to demand action – something which puts the administration in a very awkward position given what they’re now demanding vs. what Israel may be willing to do. And even if Israel capitulates, it will simply mean more demands – all to the detriment of our strongest ally in the region.
A very interesting situation brought on by perceived weakness and a diplomatic style akin to a pit bull at a cat show. It will be interesting to monitor the situation and see what comes of it, but, as one Israeli envoy noted, US/Israel relations are at their lowest ebb in 35 years. And I doubt this has substantially increased our image among the Arabs.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
So far this South American swing has been a real tour de force for Hillary Clinton – first she manages to anger one of our more stalwart allies by giving false Argentine claims legitimacy and now Ms. Clinton has managed to get Brazil to publicly refuse our attempt to increase sanctions on Iran.
We can’t even get Brazil to go along with us:
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pre-empted Clinton even before she could make the case for new United Nations Security Council penalties. Silva is an outspoken opponent of sanctions, and his country currently sits on the Security Council, which will be asked to approve its toughest-ever penalties on Iran later this year.
“It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall,” Silva told reporters hours before meeting with Clinton. “The prudent thing is to establish negotiations.”
Clinton told a news conference she respects Brazil’s position but thinks if there is any possibility of negotiating with Iran, it would happen only after a new round of sanctions.
So that’s at least one no vote on the UN’s Security Council. China and Russia are no fans of the idea. That could mean up to 3 no votes. Yup, this sanctions thing is really taking off.
The U.S. officials said that despite clear differences at the moment, the Brazilians assured Clinton their current position was not “etched in stone.”
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private diplomatic exchange.
That’s diplo speech for “yeah, had a great time and I promise I’ll call you tomorrow”.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
Surely there’s one of the famous self-help series by that name. If so, could someone do us all a favor and send copies to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?
Argentina was celebrating a diplomatic coup yesterday in its attempt to force Britain to accept talks on the future of the Falkland Islands, after a two-hour meeting in Buenos Aires between Hillary Clinton and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Responding to a request from Mrs Kirchner for “friendly mediation” between Britain and Argentina, Mrs Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said she agreed that talks were a sensible way forward and offered “to encourage both countries to sit down”.
Uh, sit down for what? Britain claimed the Falklands in 1833 after British settlers settled there during the decade. The islands lay 300 miles off the Argentine coast. In 1982, it had to fend off an attack by Argentina in a bid to take them over. Now 3 British oil companies plan to put an offshore oil rig 100 miles north of the islands.
Somehow Argentina, who should have gotten the message in 1982, is still under the mistaken impression it has some say over what goes on there:
“What they are doing is illegitimate,” said Jorge Taiana, the foreign minister. “It’s a violation of our sovereignty. We will do everything possible to defend and preserve our rights.”
Riiiight. Like they did in ’82. Look, internationally, this is pretty much settled business. Other than Argentina, no one questions which country has sovereign control in the Falklands. And certainly not those who lives there. The 3,000 island dwellers all consider themselves, and have always considered themselves, a part of the British Commonwealth.
Territorial waters, as defined by 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea extend 12 miles. Then there is a 12 mile “contiguous zone” in which a state has limited powers. A state also enjoys a 200 mile “exclusive economic zone” which includes “control of all economic resources within its exclusive economic zone, including fishing, mining, oil exploration, and any pollution of those resources.” That zone includes the territorial and contiguous zone as well.
As the cite points out:
Before 1982, coastal nations arbitrarily extended their territorial waters in an effort to control activities which are now regulated by the exclusive economic zone, such as offshore oil exploration or fishing rights (see Cod Wars). Indeed, the exclusive economic zone is still popularly, though erroneously, called a coastal nation’s territorial waters.
With the Falklands being 300 miles off the coast and the rig a 100 miles north of the islands, there is obviously nothing to the dubious claim of Argentine sovereignty (again remember, other than claim the islands, Argentina never settled them or has occupied them).
Enter Hillary Clinton – someone whose job it is to know all of this.
Her intervention defied Britain’s longstanding position that there should be no negotiations unless the islands’ 3,000 inhabitants asked for them. It was hailed in Buenos Aires as a major diplomatic victory, but condemned in the Falklands.
Britain insisted there was no need for mediation as long as the islanders wanted to remain British. “We don’t think that’s necessary,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
She gave no sign of backing the British position on negotiations, saying instead: “We would like to see Argentina and the UK sit down and resolve the issues between them in a peaceful and productive way. We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. We cannot make either one do so. We think it is the right way to proceed, so we will be saying this publicly.”
Simply amazing. Our longest standing ally thrown under the bus to solicit warm fuzzies in South America that, as have been proven with others like Hugo Chavez, have the half-life of a Mayfly.
There will be a price to pay in the future for this as anyone who has watched international relations for any time knows. Britain will extract a pound of flesh. In the meantime, other than empty words meant to please those who will remain deeply skeptical of the US, all that’s been accomplished is the abandonment of an ally. Essentially all Clinton has done is give false hope to Argentina and royally pissed off a solid ally.
Too bad the book in question isn’t available for Ms. Clinton. And apparently she’s also forgotten the old saying about “remaining silent and being thought a fool rather than speaking out and removing all doubt.”
UPDATE: Ralph Peters provides the back story.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!
Talk about whatever strikes your fancy.
Some things that have caught my eye:
Is the Obama administration trying to unionize the government procurement process?
Speaking of unions, what is SEIU’s president, Andy Stern, doing on a Obama’s “deficit reduction” panel. Does that say “I’m serious about this” to you?
Anyone else see the irony in the Hillary Clinton claim that domestic political infighting is hurting America’s image abroad?
Brits aren’t buying the “January was the warmest month ever” nonsense.
Speaking of the Brits, is there a reason we won’t back their claim to the Falklands in a drilling-rights dispute?
Apparently some Dems are calling for Charles Rangel to step down from his House committee chairmanship because of ethics violations. Why isn’t Nancy “the most ethical Congress in history” Pelosi doing the same?
Paul Ryan was the rock star in the health care summit. To date no one has refuted his fiscal points.
The Obama administration has consistently talked about the Bush administration not counting the cost of war in its deficits. Well, it isn’t a war, but the Obama administration continues to nrefuse to cout the hundreds of billions going to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – primarily because it would bump this year’s 1.4 trillion deficit by another 300 billion.
And finally there’s some relatively good news. Jeremy Lott says there have been quite a few “quiet libertarian victories” here lately.
[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!