Netanyahu and Obama: Name-Calling and its Discontents

The obsession in politics and diplomacy with decorum–largely a relic from the past–can easily distract people from the realities of the present. 8575956802_b0f1918361_zCase in point, the uproar over Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest article in the Atlantic, the headline of which, The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here, would seem important enough to warrant more attention than it has gotten so far.

Instead, the whisper of an unnamed “senior Obama administration official,” who called Netanyahu a “chickenshit,” has occupied headlines. And instead of taking a strong, or even a weak stance on Netanyahu’s repeated declarations about expanding settlement activity everywhere in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the White House has only tried to distance itself from the remark, describing it as “unauthorized” and “inappropriate.” Read more at LobeLog

Nuclear Islam: Demystifying the Iranian Threat

The mindless way in which Americans simply assume that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon is just appalling. I have found it most repulsive in that my school, the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, reflects in its classes the absolute certainty of this “fact,” despite the reality that the evidence points to multiple possible conclusions, and an unyielding Iranian pursuit of a nuke is far from the most likely. I explore this mindless, zealous almost religious belief that permeates government, the media and, sadly, academia this week in Souciant

Hopping Off the Fence: Why I Support Foreign Intervention in Libya

Sometimes, even an indecisive stance can be wrong. When it comes to the international intervention in Libya, until recent days, I was indecisive, and I was wrong.

A couple of days ago, I got off that fence, and actually came down on the side I had been leaning away from (as evidenced by a short quip in this article I recently wrote). Before I could post anything on that subject, Juan Cole posted an outstanding argument supporting the current international intervention. You should read it.

As always, my own thoughts are a little different, but I find nothing in Cole’s piece to disagree with.

Libyans demonstrating against Qaddafi and for a no-fly zone

My initial ambivalence was based on a number of factors. It was certainly clear enough to me that Qaddafi was preparing to seriously escalate his assault on the rebellious citizens in Libya, and there was every reason to believe that the casualty rate would be high and would include a good many uninvolved bystanders as well as the rebels.

But when the no-fly zone was first announced, it looked an awful lot like another American intervention without a clear exit strategy. I was concerned that the US was once again heading into a Muslim country without thinking through long-term considerations. Moreover, I was not only mistrustful of any international effort led by the US, UK and France, but was especially worried because it meant a Western military presence right next door to Tunisia and Egypt, and a greater concentration of Western forces in general near the sites of other potential revolutions.

I still have those concerns, and I think they’re healthy. Given the history of the three countries leading this effort, we should remain ever vigilant.

But in the end, none of this stacks up against what it was apparent Qaddafi was about to do. And there are more considerations here. Continue reading

Special Feature: Obama’s Veto At the UN, Its Causes and Its Effects, Part II

See Part I here

Last week, I detailed part of the price the US is likely to pay for this veto, the first one in over four years (seven Mideast resolutions have passed in that time). But there will surely be more.

There are two main factors that compound the effect this veto has: the rhetoric of the current President of the United States and this particular moment in history.

Americans are not going to remember this veto for very long; we rarely do. But the fishbowl Americans live in is transparent, and others, who do not have the luxury of

Mahmoud Abbas has what is likely his last chance to lead Palestinians toward progress

being able to treat international relations so lightly, have much better memories.

People still recall President Obama’s eloquent speech in Cairo in 2009. And they’ve long since realized that he is never going to live up to the pretty words. Obama expresses very noble ideals, but he is not a fighter for those ideals. He seeks at all times to avoid confrontations, whether with Republicans, members of his own party in Congress or in the international arena.

But in this case, all Obama needed to do was to stand aside on a resolution that reflects official US policy. Yes, people in the Arab world, as well as Israeli peace activists, realize that would have been a political headache. But it’s a little hard for them to muster sympathy right now for the American president.

Obama has done a shameful job of responding to the ongoing tidal wave of revolution in the Arab world. While people risk life and limb to rid themselves of dictators, some of them long-time clients of the USA, the US’ only response has been for everyone to show “restraint.” The only harsh statement was aimed at Iran, reflecting not a response to the battles for freedom, but a cynical political opportunism that completely smothers any hint of principle.

Amidst all of that, the US had a golden opportunity to reshape our badly tarnished image. Just an abstention on the UNSC resolution, just that small gesture in the one part of the Middle East where the US could, potentially, wield by far the most influence to free people from a regime which does not respect their human, much less civil rights, would have made up for quite a bit of American failure. Continue reading

Special Feature: Obama’s Veto At the UN, Its Causes and Its Effects, Part I

The much anticipated United States veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements came about on Friday. It surprised no one, but, as I wrote last week, the repercussions of this veto are going to be much deeper than the numerous previous vetoes.

The US has vetoed a great many UNSC resolutions that dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though there have also been many, even in recent years, which the US did

Susan Rice and Barack Obama saw AIPAC coming and got the message from Congress loud and clear

not veto. But this time the resolution was not only perfectly in line with official US policy, but it dealt with an issue the current administration had confronted head-on but had failed to affect in any measurable way.

Susan Rice’s statement of explanation about the US veto is an absolute mess of double-talk and distortions. This really isn’t surprising; there is little doubt that the White House and State Department made the veto decision based not on a sober analysis of what is best for Israel or the Palestinians or for US interests in the Middle East.

No, this decision was made because of the massive congressional pressure that was brought to bear on this question. And, in turn, that congressional pressure came at the behest of AIPAC. That’s why the explanation sounds so thin, why it is based on tired clichés that we’ve heard for years and have long since been exposed as threadbare. And I say this as one who is not a subscriber to the Israel Lobby theory, who has, in fact, written extensively to the contrary. But in those writings, I never tried to deny that the Lobby has enormous power in Congress, and this is a case where that is very effective.

Let’s consider Rice’s explanation before we look at the ramifications of this decision, which I will do in part II of this piece. Rice said:

Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.

The proposed UNSC resolution would have reaffirmed that all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal. Indeed, this is the US’ official policy, as affirmed in an April 21, 1978 State Department legal opinion, which has never been revised or reversed: “While Israel may undertake, in the occupied territories, actions necessary to meet its military needs and to provide for orderly government during the occupation, for the reasons indicated above the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law.”(my emphasis added) Reading more excerpts from this opinion is well worth your while. Continue reading