This week, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy meeting, and this one was quite different from many that came before it. For years, AIPAC conferences celebrated strong bipartisan support for Israel and for the unqualified U.S. support of Israel. But in 2019, that unity is very clearly fraying.
Where once there had been a significant number of foreign policy realists in the Republican Party who felt that the U.S. approach needed to be more even-handed, the GOP these days is passionately and overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and displays little if any concern about the lives of Palestinians. Democrats, on the other hand, are displeased with the Trump administration’s approach to the regional issues, feeling it has endangered and possibly doomed a two-state solution to the conflict.
But the Republican-Democrat divide is not the only area of division on Israel and Palestine. Within the Democratic party, a schism is widening between those who insist on supporting the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu—which includes the powerful centrist leadership of the party such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Eliot Engel, and Hakeem Jeffries— and the more progressive wing, led proudly by women like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, and others, who want to open a debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East and orient it more toward universal human rights.
But AIPAC is not just the venue to display these growing cracks in the bipartisan consensus that have made it even more difficult for the United States to play a productive role in resolving this devastating conflict. It is also a major player in the policy process, especially in Congress, as well as a source of intense debate and controversy over the question of why the United States behaves as it does in the region.
At this year’s conference, Ilhan Omar was attacked by members of Congress from both parties as well as by members of AIPAC and by the vice president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel. The reason for these attacks was that Omar had the temerity to call out and challenge AIPAC’s destructive influence, its role in directing the campaign funds of pro-Israel political actions committees (something AIPAC itself is not, despite its confusing name), and its efforts to establish the boundaries of discourse in Washington. Read more at LobeLog
I did two radio spots this week which my readers might find interesting. Both were devoted largely, but not entirely, to discussion of Ilhan Omar’s tweets and the outrageous backlash to them. My piece on the matter is at LobeLog, at this link.
Yesterday, I spoke with Ian Masters on KPFK in Los Angeles. You can hear that segment at this page.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon about Rep. Omar, Israeli elections, and a little on Iran. You can listen to that at this link.
When Donald Trump announced that he was immediately removing all U.S. troops from Eastern Syria, I was surprised by the reaction. There was near glee in anti-war corridors. The initial response is understandable; the United States should not be in Syria, and that is true for many reasons. Moreover, many of those objecting to the decision are doing so because it doesn’t fit with their objectives to heighten tensions with Iran and continue to pursue endless conflict in the name of fighting terrorism. But leaving the way Trump intends is foolish and will not lead to a good outcome. Read more at LobeLog
Just a few sentences into Donald Trump’s speech
to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday, the entire world was laughing
at the President of the United States. Reactions to the
rest of his speech might have vacillated between anger and ridicule, while his loyal base and administration servants sat with self-satisfied grins. But some of what he said should cause concern.
Whether it was his repeated emphasis on sovereignty over alliances—a common theme of authoritarian leaders—his railing about trade deficits whose effects on the US economy he clearly doesn’t understand, his attacks on international institutions and partnerships, or his general air of condescension and hubris, Trump reaffirmed his intention to move the United States deeper into a belligerent isolation from most of the world. Read more at LobeLog
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to change US policy toward both Israel-Palestine and Iran. When Obama arrived in the Oval Office, he brought an ambitious foreign policy plan with him. He wanted to diminish the heavy U.S. footprint in the Middle East, “pivot toward Asia,” and rebuild the confidence in the United States as a sober actor on the world stage that George W. Bush had undermined with his calamitous invasion of Iraq.
At the beginning of his first term—after he made his initial speech indicating a willingness to improve relations with Iran—Obama devoted his efforts and political capital to trying to bring a Palestinian state into being. He knew there would be political costs, and although he underestimated them, he understood that it would take all the political capital he had to have any chance at productive talks.
By 2012, Obama recognized that he was not going to get the grand bargain between Israel and the Palestinians that he had hoped for. So he turned his attention toward Iran. Working with U.S. allies in Europe and through the United Nations, he pushed for sanctions to bring Iran to the table. The pressure paved the way for the nuclear talks that would eventually lead, in 2015, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.
Obama recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran nuclear deal were each very expensive in terms of political capital. He couldn’t afford to pursue both. It’s a lesson Donald Trump still doesn’t understand. Read more at LobeLog
Donald Trump has moved beyond the issue of North Korea and on to his next episode, dissing NATO allies and running to Vladimir Putin’s warm, autocratic embrace. But while Trump’s short attention span has shifted to the next episode of the reality show that he believes his presidency to be, the issue of North Korea is very much alive, and very much still a concern.
Trump said there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. But a few days ago, it was revealed that US intelligence has a very different assessment. They believe that North Korea is planning to significantly under-report their nuclear stockpile and their enrichment sites. Given the stock many, myself included, put into such assessments when it came to Iran, it would be foolhardy to ignore them in this case.
The concerns here are as obvious now as they were predictable on June 12. Trump, an incompetent leader whose ego leads him to believe those who flatter him, was played for a fool by Kim Jung-un. But there are other issues to contend with.
One of those is the fact that his top national security aides are not on the same page. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is cautiously talking about timelines for North Korean disarmament. National Security Adviser John Bolton is already saying this can be done in less than a year if North Korea complies. And Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis seems to be out of the loop entirely. That is a situation that should concern everyone, not only Americans.
But the issues go beyond Trump’s cabinet. There is a legitimate concern that a good deal could be missed because of the animus liberals, leftists and even many Republicans have toward Trump. That concern was reinforced by congressional Democrats who made declarations about the standards North Korea should be held to that sounded eerily similar to Republican saber-rattling in 2015 over Iran.
The cliché that “talking is better than not talking” Is correct most of the time. Where it fails, however, is in the face of gross incompetence. Continue reading
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves to indulge in theatrics from time to time. On Monday, he cleared out prime time space in Israel for what was billed as a “big announcement” regarding Iran.Barack
Netanyahu spent the time outlining the proof that Iran had, in fact, maintained a nuclear weapons program from 1997-2003. He made a big deal about “catching Iran lying,” and neglected to mention that the information he was “revealing” was well known. In fact, the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which described how Iran had halted the program, contained most of what was revealed in Netanyahu’s presentation. Read more at LobeLog