Recommended Reading: Plitnick on differences between enemies

Check out Mitchell Plitnick and “Those We Can Talk To and Those We Cannot.” Exploring some new thinking in the American military and the important distinctions between Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Those We Can Talk To, and Those We Cannot

A senior officer in the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said that “Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid.” He was referring to a statement made by that prince of idiocy, Danny Ayalon, Israel’s perpetual embarrassment of a Deputy Foreign Minister.

As shameful as it is that a man as crude, boorish and ignorant as Ayalon holds such a position in Israel, the source of that statement is just one element in what appears to be evolving thinking in the US military.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

An article at Foreign Affairs on the so-called “Red Team” report regarding policy toward Hamas and Hezbollah should not be given more weight than it is due. The purpose of the Red Team deliberation is specifically to challenge existing policy. Still, the thinking that the article reports is quite promising.

There is a real understanding reflected in their recommendations that Hezbollah and Hamas are not transitory political forces, but are here to stay, and they need to be dealt with in a serious fashion. Merely writing them off as terrorists and refusing to engage them has already proven counter-productive. Eventually, both groups will, in fact, be dealt with in an open fashion. That day is likely a long way off, which is unfortunate; a lot of bloodshed could be avoided by hastening, rather than delaying, that day.

Different kinds of Islamist groups

It’s easy to lump all of those groups together. It’s a useful propaganda tool for the inane “war on terror.” And it produces a backlash among leftists, who often overlook the abhorrent acts Hamas or Hezbollah have committed, identifying them primarily as freedom fighters. Given that all of these groups have used the tactic of terrorism, they make it easy for people to lump them together.

The reality is that al-Qaeda and similar groups, on the one hand, and national-religious groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are real forces in the world, and if we don’t do a better job of both distinguishing between them and understanding them, the conflicts we are in today are going to go on for a long time. Continue reading

Jerusalem's Mayor is a Threat to Israel's Future

Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to President Obama today, urgently pointing out what should be obvious to him: “Engage NOW to get Jerusalem under control.” The full text of the letter can be found here.

The letter lays out the problem clearly enough. And, indeed, the solution is for President Obama to get Prime Minister

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Netanyahu to rein in the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. I’ll take it further—Barkat is as big a threat to Israel’s future as any individual in the world.

Barkat, a businessman, became mayor in 2008, and many thought that as a secular Israeli, coming on the heels of a very religious mayor, he would be more pragmatic. Such has not been the case.

Barkat has gone out of his way to enflame the conflict with the Palestinians. Jerusalem is the most emotional of all the issues setting Israelis and Palestinians at odds, and the mayor of Jerusalem, therefore, has more direct power than anyone to cause flare-ups.

Barkat does not pay much mind to this fact. In his campaign for mayor he made it very clear that he felt strongly that Jerusalem remain the “undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people.” And, much more than his Haredi predecessor, he has taken bold steps to ensure that outcome. Continue reading

Israel's A Domestic Issue–That's the Problem

In the 21st century, Congress has demonstrated both incompetence in handling its limited responsibility in foreign policy, and how disastrous it is when it oversteps its bounds and tries to get more involved in foreign affairs than it should.

Outside of those working actively in foreign policy, it still seems like Americans have not grasped the magnitude of the

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA, seated at the left) prepares to address a pro-Israel rally

foolish decisions to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. But, for reasons that did not include a clear and sober calculation of American security or even geo-political interests, Bush, Cheney, and their neo-conservative cohorts did, in fact, put us back into a Vietnam-like quagmire.

But this one is worse. Vietnam was predicated on the “domino theory,” which dictated that the fall of a country in Southeast Asia of relatively minor importance would set off a chain reaction and lead to more crucial countries falling to Communism. Once the theory was discarded, it was possible, even if not so simple, to extricate ourselves from the war.

That’s not the case in either Afghanistan or Iraq, particularly the latter. Iraq, a major oil producer, could easily fall under the control or influence of foreign powers, including Iran, which would significantly affect the global economy and the global balance of power. Afghanistan has always been a center of instability, but the American intervention has embroiled Pakistan more deeply in the conflicts there, and the threat of Afghani issues destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear power, is very real. In both cases, these are merely singular examples among many other serious concerns.

No, America cannot just up and leave the Middle East as it did Southeast Asia. America also has very little to gain from staying, but must do so to avoid the consequences of leaving. That’s where the Neoconservatives have left the US. Making such clearly foolish mistakes in when and where to go to war is precisely why (among other reasons) Congress is the only body authorized to declare war. Continue reading

Lobbies, pro and con

Over at the Realistic Peace blog, Moshe Yaroni looks at the distasteful letters AIPAC directed members of Congress to send to the President. Just more evidence that politics comes ahead of national interests, but that’s one thing most people, on the left or the right, can agree upon.

He also discusses the whole “Israel Lobby” question, which you can find a lot of my writing about on this blog.

Here we are in an election year, and once again, AIPAC is able to turn screws like crazy in Congress. Some wonder why.

The two big "lobbies"

Some wonder whether all the polls which show that most Jews welcome a robust American peace effort that includes pressure on both sides are smoke and mirrors.

Even Israelis in significant numbers recognize that their government depends on outside pressure to take the risks necessary for peace.

Let’s confront this for what it really is: a small minority in the Jewish community drives the so-called “Jewish vote.”

It’s not a vote at all, in fact. It is that small number of wealthy Jews who are willing to put up a great deal of money in campaign contributions to create a specific dynamic: ongoing American financial, military and diplomatic support that remains consistent no matter what actions Israel takes and whether or not those actions serve American interests. Continue reading

AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. Continue reading

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. Continue reading