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Friday, May 20, 2011

Petty POTUS tilts against Israel

Regarding President Obama's speech at the State Department yesterday regarding the Middle East and North Africa:

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

I have no problem at all with the final sentence in that paragraph. I have no problem at all with Obama taking fair credit for authorizing the mission to kill bin Laden, and I commend him in particular for accepting the greater risk to our forces and our national interests from sending in the SEALs, instead of doing nothing or relying on a JDAM or cruise missile. (He managed to take advantage of hindsight to avoid repeating Bill Clinton's now-obvious mistakes, in other words, and for that I am glad.) It was certainly an event worth including in any look back at the last ten years. And it's still topical and fresh, so I don't even mind that Obama then goes on for another two paragraphs just about bin Laden.

But only a petulant jerk would ignore the fact that American and British forces defeated Saddam's army and deposed his regime in three weeks. Or the fact that coalition forces continue to come home from Iraq, on a timetable negotiated by Bush-43 and the Iraqis, precisely because they've generally succeeded in their multi-year counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism missions in Iraq. And between 9/11/01 and year-end, American special forces working with Afghan allies deposed the Taliban's regime, driving it from power into an exile (from which it continues to fight, but without the same ability it had to provide safe haven for bin Laden, al Qaeda, and others who'd export international terrorism). Multiple elections have been held in both countries — elections made possible only by the spilled blood of coalition forces fighting alongside natives committed to their countries' freedom too. 

Those weren't just George W. Bush's accomplishments, no more than killing bin Laden was solely Barack Obama's accomplishment. They were America's accomplishments. But in his pique, his reflexive spite for his predecessor, Obama simply has to paint the things that America accomplished during Bush's presidency in bleak terms if he mentions them at all. Deposing a monster just as evil and cruel as bin Laden, but who as a head of state killed hundreds of thousands more people than bin Laden did, becomes merely "years of war in Iraq"; the monster's name is not even mentioned.

Isn't Obama's one-sentence write-off of everything done in Iraq before he took office just exactly what a politician might say if Saddam had beaten us, instead of Saddam ending up swinging at the end of a rope?

John Kennedy didn't treat Eisenhower like that. Nixon didn't treat Johnson like that, and Bill Clinton didn't treat Bush-41 like that. But much more importantly, to my knowledge, no American president has been so dismissive of the accomplishments on the field of battle of its armed forces from before he became Commander in Chief. Indeed, a key reason why John Kerry didn't ever occupy that position was precisely because upon his return from Vietnam, he'd done exactly that — disparaging our warriors — even while basking in glory for having been one of them. I concede that ignoring their accomplishments is better than telling lies that paint them as war criminals. But it's still wrong, ungracious, unpresidential.

I cannot like this man. I cannot re-kindle a liking for him. I would not like to have dinner with him or shake his hand. And although I would shake his hand if it were offered, or stand upon his entrance to a room I was in, I'd do that from respect for his office and not for the man who presently holds it.

He is petty, about little things and big things both. Were we ever to meet, I could no longer find it in myself to be magnanimous to him.


Many of the following paragraphs, in which Obama discusses what's been sometimes called "the Arab Spring," are entirely satisfactory to me. As many, many pundits of both the left and right have noted, they read very much like many speeches George W. Bush gave regarding the spread of democracy in the region. But then, suddenly — jarringly — everything once again has to be all about Obama:

But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

As is said on the prairies of West Texas whence I sprang: "Do whut now?"

What part of deposing the Taliban's or Saddam's national governments, or the aftermaths of those events in Afghanistan and Iraq, was "accepting the world as it is in the region"? What decades is he talking about — 1820-1850?

Why does he have to pretend that he's the first person to have said these same things? Why does he have to pretend that what he's saying in this speech about America encouraging democracy is some big policy change — when actually all that's changed is that he's no longer criticizing Dubya's rhetoric but parroting it?


When he promised an additional $2 billion in loan guarantees and debt forgiveness to Egypt, I wanted to hear Obama also say "if its government doesn't include elements of the Muslim Brotherhood or other organizations with a history of supporting violence and international terrorism."

Nothing like that was said. 


But then to Israel and the Palestinians:

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

Since Truman, American presidents, and the diplomats who serve at their pleasure, have displayed this sort of parallelism, this drawing of comparisons in a way that presumes and implies comparability and even equivalence.

It's time to stop that nonsense. The thieves, cut-throats, and thugs who purport to speak for the Palestinians aren't interested in taking "yes" for an answer from the Israelis. Only the Palestinian leaders are at fault for the fact that they do not already have a viable independent state. It was on the table for them to take, and Arafat walked away from it; his successors have never even seriously tried to get back to that point, preferring instead to squabble, snipe (figuratively and literally), and wallow in victimhood and violence. And it's not only dishonest to pretend that they and Israeli leaders are equally to blame for this state of affairs, it's very bad diplomacy. There are indeed disputes in which only one side is at fault, and however this one began, that's what this one has been for a long, long time.

But Obama doubles down:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

So as soon as Israel rolls over completely and throws away all of its most valuable bargaining chips for nothing in return, then we'll all have a "basis for negotiations."

If you think I'm misinterpreting the sequencing here, Obama will correct you:

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Territory is real. Security is flexible and temporary, and depends on the continued good faith of both sides. Why would Israel give up something real for something flexible and temporary? How could Obama possibly think they're that foolish?

This amounts to "1967 borders today, guys, and then we'll all return next week to decide precisely how badly you Israelis will fare on Jerusalem and the 'Palestinian right of return.'" I wonder whether Obama actually ever did any actual negotiation as a lawyer/community organizer. I've never had a negotiation in which I've persuaded one side that it ought agree today to a deal that exposes it to increased depredation by its opponents just so it can come back to the bargaining table later to arrange its further capitulation on its top "hot-button" issues.

Why should we ever think this will ever possibly happen? Obama answers:

I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

More shameful drawing of moral equivalents between things that are not at all morally equivalent.

Israel does not try to target little boys and girls, ever. Its opponents do, always. When Palestinian children are killed in collateral damage from Israeli responses to rockets and bombs, Israelis mourn and resolve to try harder to limit collateral casualties in the future. When Israeli children are killed in intentional damage from Palestinian suicide bombers (or rockets or mortars, both highly indiscriminate), Palestinians celebrate and resolve to kill more innocents the next time.

Yes, hate is caustic, but it's a whole lot more justified when directed toward deliberate murderers. And forgiveness is divine, but forgiveness is not absolution from responsibility. Whether they hate or forgive, both these fathers should hold responsible the Palestinian leaders who perpetuate this system and feed off these deaths.

Why does an American president treat these things as if they're the same? How does that lie advance the peace process?

President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as they walk from the Oval Office to the South Lawn Drive of the White House, following their meetings, May 20, 2011 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Obama did not repeat this particular position on sequencing of negotiations, the 1967 borders, or the "right of return" in his joint press conference today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But neither did Obama retract the new position, and indeed its timing was obviously intended to present the Israelis with a fait accompli.

That's our President Gutsy.

Nevertheless, today Bibi politely but firmly responded to what Obama said yesterday, and he categorically rejected the notion of either a return to 1967 borders or the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel (as opposed to a proposed Palestinian state). I accord him high marks for self-restraint and statesmanship, because nowhere in his remarks did Netanyahu slip and use the Hebrew word "meshuga" (or its Yiddish cousin, perhaps better known here in the U.S., "meshugana").


UPDATE (Sat May 21 @ 3:10pm): Reading about Obama's speech at the State Department from Thursday, I've found a very, very wide range of interpretations about what Obama said and what it means. They range from "this is no more than business as usual, consistent with past U.S. policy," to "the sky is falling."

Gaza-Strip-West-BankI am taking Obama exactly at his word, and giving him and his administration every benefit of every doubt. I'm not accusing him, for example, of already breaching promises made by the United States to Israel regarding borders. I'm giving Obama full credit for the broadest, and most Israel-friendly interpretation of, the phrase "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps" in order to keep that consistent with previous proposals that have involved some sort of land-for-peace deal. I'm not assuming that Obama is committing the U.S. to support only a return to precisely the 1948 truce lines; if you read his speech that way, then this is an incredibly perfidious betrayal of Israel, not just a "tilt."

Likewise, I'm not jumping to conclusions from such things as his reference to a "contiguous" Palestinian state, which could be read to mean a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza that bifurcates Israel entirely (in the manner Germany was split by the Danzig Corridor after WW1).

For an example of an extremely critical interpretation, read Caroline Glick's analysis; I respectfully disagree with her in many respects, and with Power Line's Scott Johnson, who characterizes Glick's commentary as "shrewd." I'd say it's frankly alarmist, albeit with some considerable justification, and I fault Ms. Glick in particular for not making exactly clear which parts of her analysis are based on inference rather than actual quotes from the speech.

But there is no possible interpretation of Obama's speech which ignores its commitment to borders now, Jerusalem/return later. And that itself is a significant and extremely unfortunate tilt.

Posted by Beldar at 08:01 PM in Foreign Policy, Global War on Terror, History, Obama | Permalink


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(1) Beldar made the following comment | May 20, 2011 10:11:39 PM | Permalink

Editing note: Final paragraph added about two hours after the original post, but isn't marked as an "update"; rather, I realized upon re-reading that I had left the misimpression (by not mentioning Netanyahu's statements today) that the borders/return issues hadn't been addressed at all. It was only Obama ducking those issues; Bibi was, characteristically, gracious but blunt and wickedly wry.

I should mention, too, that in the photo, those are just Marines in their dress uniforms as part of the standard White House detail. The rumors that Obama brought in SEAL Team No. 6 to supplement the Secret Service for the private meeting with Bibi are, so far as I can tell, completely unfounded. Because SEAL Team 6 doesn't exist. Of course.

Do note, however, that this is the White House's choice as the Obama Administration's official Photo of the Day for May 20, 2011. This is what Barack Obama selects to be seen around the world: Him, flanked by symbols of American power, obviously lecturing the Prime Minister of Israel.

(2) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 21, 2011 1:04:29 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Fine post. But I can't decide if this hideous Israel-bashing just The One's shallowness, or a cynical, what-do-I-care-I'm-going-to-end-up-in-Hawaii-when-I'm-done-I'm-all-right attitude. At the moment I think it's shallowness; The One really is that dumb.

The photo is another clumsy attempt to bludgeon BN. Yet all the character and class run the other way. Unlike The One, BN has taken plenty of beatings, to the point where he was driven from office. He came back. Try to imagine The One showing the same resolution and fortitude.

As for negotiations like you've never seen, for once Godwin's Law does not apply: The One is following the same path Neville Chamberlain did to the Czechs in the spring and summer of 1938. The constant pressure on and badgering of the Czechs, the cry that the Czechs were a faraway people of whom we know nothing, the unspoken repudiation of written and unwritten agreements with the Czechs are all parallels. They aren't perfect, but the resemblance is truly dismaying. In one regard, The One is even worse than Britain and France's leadership in 1938. They at least faced a formidable adversary, who could do them great harm. This gave them a common, if base, motive for heaving the Czechs overboard. Who but a fool thinks that the "peace process" will gain America one iota of security, even if Israel is wiped from the map and every Jew slaughtered? Mearshiemer and Walt have never been more smug than The One's speech has made them. This makes BN's dignity and resolution even more admirable. The US is greatly in his debt, though this won't be acknowledged until The One is booted to Hawaii, where he can start his post-Prez career by fanning the secessionist movement there. A fitting cap to his odious career.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(3) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | May 21, 2011 7:37:02 AM | Permalink

Because SEAL Team 6 doesn't exist. Of course.

Well, "It DOESN'T!!!"... :-)

(4) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | May 21, 2011 7:55:08 AM | Permalink

(2) Gregory Koster
At the moment I think it's shallowness; The One really is that dumb.

Yes, Sir: I believe that Occam's Razor strongly suggests that he is truly a WYSIWYG president (What You See Is What You Get).

(5) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 21, 2011 5:25:06 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I've read Caroline Glick's article, and agree with you that she could have spelled out the steps of her thinking more closely. But shucks, even if she's only 25% right, she's miles closer to the mark than The One is. E.g. The One's imbecilic notion that a Palestinian state must be contiguous. CG thinks this means that Israel is to be cut in two, in the manner of East and West Pakistan from 1947-71. You say that isn't spelled out, so you disagree with her. OK, suppose you are right. If a) Israel is not to be cut in two,but b) the Palestinian state is to be contiguous, what's the answer? It's c) a sizable swap of territory, just as The One called for in his speech. But my God, look at the map you've provided. Tell me what sort of swaps would make c) work? It can't be done without eviscerating Israel, turning enormous amounts of physical capital to the Palestinians in exchange for worthless land that will need a lot of time and energy to be made productive. No no, CG may be alarmist, but she's bang right. The One's witlessness has reached new heights with this one.

This doesn't even take into account the likely starvation of Egypt that is fast approaching because of rising food prices and capital flight from Egypt.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(6) Beldar made the following comment | May 21, 2011 7:43:13 PM | Permalink

Mr. Koster (#5), to play devil's advocate with you and Ms. Glick: The most charitable reading of the "contiguity" language is merely an endorsement of that as one of many desirable attributes to be considered in establishing boundaries of a Palestinian state. It could be accomplished by locating such a state only in Gaza or only on the West Bank (and not in both). It could be accomplished without bifurcating Israel by creating a long V-shaped pendant corridor to connect Gaza and the West Bank, created from territory previously at the extreme south edge of Israel's border.

Of course, none of those alternatives is remotely plausible or practicable. In the light most favorable to Obama, it's still an ill-considered choice of potential attributes to mention. But it's not necessarily a new American commitment to cut Israel in half either, which is how Ms. Glick interprets it.

I'm not disagreeing with you or her so much as confining, for present purposes, my arguments to that which I don't think the Administration could reasonably dispute or claim that I've taken out of context. I'm content today to prove more thoroughly that there's been an anti-Israel tilt, and I don't want to assume the burden today of also persuading that it's of apocalyptic magnitude.

(7) Milhouse made the following comment | May 22, 2011 3:31:09 AM | Permalink

You've already mentioned the illegitimate parallels that successive US administrations have made, but this one needs more specific attention: "Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks". These are presented as two offenses, one on each side, and comparable. But let's look at each one individually.

The USA has the right to insist that the "Palestinians" engage in good-faith talks with the aim of recognising the right of a key USA ally to exist. So long as they do not recognise that right, the USA has a duty to side against them; it has no right to neutrality.

On the other hand, not only has the USA no business telling a sovereign country where and how it may allow its citizens to build their homes; it's more than that: the USA's long-running disapproval of any building activity in Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria is inherently racist, and therefore runs against every US law and consitutional provision. It's as if the USA had not just tolerated but openly supported and promoted apartheid in South Africa, and insisted that the South African government institute it, condemned that government for not instituting it, etc. Such a situation would be absurd. How can the USA insist on a foreign government doing something that it would be blatantly unconstitutional for any US government to do?

So far from being parallel and opposite offenses, the sentence quoted above downplays a real offense by the "Palestinians" while turning an Israeli virtue into a pretended offense. The USA must object to the first, and has no right to object to the second.

(8) mpmajret made the following comment | May 23, 2011 12:19:53 AM | Permalink

Bibi should have replied:

Israel will return to the 1967 boundries, when the U.S. returns
to its 1846 boundries.

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