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Friday, March 13, 2009

Bolton: To Obama, Israel more a problem than an ally

Writing in Friday's New York Post, former American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says that to the Obama administration, Israel is more of a problem than an ally. As a result, Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 'mediator' George Mitchell (pictured) are likely to pressure Israel enormously in the coming months. They are also likely to recognize Hamas as a legitimate actor in our region.
Naming Mitchell as a high-level, single-issue envoy - rather than keeping the portfolio under Secretary Clinton's personal control - separates Israel from the broader conduct of US diplomacy. Mitchell's role underlines both the issue's priority in the president's eyes and the implicit idea it can be solved in the foreseeable future.

Obama and Mitchell have every incentive to strike a Middle East deal - both to vindicate themselves and, in their minds, to create a basis for further "progress." But there are few visible incentives for any particular substantive outcome - which is very troubling for Israel, since Mitchell's mission essentially replicates in high-profile form exactly the approach the State Department has followed for decades.

When appointed, Mitchell said confidently: "Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings." This is true, however, only if the conflict's substantive resolution is less important than the process point of "ending" it one way or another. Surrender, for example, is a guaranteed way to end conflict.

Here, Clinton's strident insistence on a "two-state solution" during her recent Mideast trip becomes important. She essentially argued predestination: the "inevitability" of moving toward two states is "inescapable," and "there is no time to waste." The political consequence is clear: Since the outcome is inevitable and time is short, there is no excuse for not making "progress." Delay is evidence of obstructionism and failure - something President Obama can't tolerate, for the sake of his policies and his political reputation.

In this very European view, failure on the Arab-Israeli front presages failure elsewhere. Accordingly, the Obama adminstration has created a negotiating dynamic that puts increasing pressure on Israel, Palestinians, Syria and others.

Almost invariably, Israel is the loser - because Israel is the party most dependent on the United States, most subject to US pressure and most susceptible to the inevitable chorus of received wisdom from Western diplomats, media and the intelligentsia demanding concessions. When pressure must be applied to make compromises, it's always easier to pressure the more reasonable side.

How will diplomatic pressure work to change Hamas or Hezbollah, where even military force has so far failed? If anything, one can predict coming pressure on Israel to acknowledge the legitimacy of these two terrorist groups, and to negotiate with them as equals (albeit perhaps under some artful camouflage). The pattern is so common that its reappearance in the Mitchell-led negotiations is what is really "inevitable" and "inescapable."

Why would America subject a close ally to this dynamic, playing with the security of an unvarying supporter in world affairs? For America, Israel's intelligence-sharing, military cooperation and significant bilateral economic ties, among many others, are important national-security assets that should not lightly be put at risk.

The only understandable answer is that the Obama administration believes that Israel is as much or more of a problem as it is an ally, at least until Israel's disagreements with its neighbors are resolved. Instead of seeing Israel as a national-security asset, the administration likely sees a relationship complicating its broader policy of diplomatic "outreach."

No one will say so publicly, but this is the root cause of Obama's "Arab-Israeli issues first" approach to the region.

This approach is exactly backward. All the other regional problems would still exist even if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got his fondest wish and Israel disappeared from the map: Iran's nuclear-weapons program, its role as the world's central banker for terrorism, the Sunni-Shiite conflict within Islam, Sunni terrorist groups like al Qaeda and other regional ethnic, national and political animosities would continue as threats and risks for decades to come.

Instead, the US focus should be on Iran and the manifold threats it poses to Israel, to Arab states friendly to Washington and to the United States itself - but that is not to be.
Read it all.

This was all predictable to anyone who was able to look beyond the 'Democrat' label on Obama's lapel during the election campaign. By the time Americans discover what they are throwing away by pressuring Israel, it could be awfully late.


At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At first I didn't notice the colon after the world "Bolton." That was confusing!

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Word - not world.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

In other news, the sun rises in the East in the morning. Israel is seen by many people, erroneously, as a problem they wish would go away. But the Middle East's problems won't magically disappear even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was somehow resolved.

That's where Hopenchange misunderstands what's really at work in the region, most of which has nothing to do with Israel, to cite just two examples, the crisis in Darfur and the on-going endemic violence in Iraq. There is no reason to believe those things would be any different had the Jewish State never existed and they wouldn't be either if Israel disappeared in the future.

At 12:31 AM, Blogger JR said...

I stand four-square behind Israel, our true friends in a region where Anti-Americanism is the real danger. In the light that reveals the Arab lunacy gripping the Middle East today, Israel has proved to be a sane, democratic island surrounded by an ocean of hate and self-destructive mayhem. Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah and the rest are not credible entities for the world to support. Israel is - and the world media need to abstain from bashing them for protecting their existence.


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