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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Anti-Israel crowd still trying to spin Petraeus

In a Wednesday press conference in New Hampshire, US CENTCOM commander David Petraeus denied quotes attributed to him in a Foreign Policy blog post in which it was claimed that he had said that Israeli policies in Judea and Samaria were endangering the lives of American troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, if you watch the video of the press conference, Petraeus seemed quite pleased that Philip Klein of American Spectator asked the question, and he was eager to answer that Mark Perry of the Foreign Policy blog had gotten everything wrong and that Max Boot of Contentions had gotten it all right.

You would think that would be enough for the issue to be dropped. It wasn't. Klein reports that Israel Lobby conspiracy theorist Stephen Walt is calling Klein a 'revisionist' despite his having backed up his assertions with video of the press conference.

Walt's claims are based on an article by Matt Duss, which Klein describes as part of an effort by the anti-Israel crowd to co-opt Petraeus, which of course includes Pat Buchanan and the vapid Andrew Sullivan. Klein notes:
[T]he Israel bashers are making two major errors in interpreting Petraeus's position, as he clearly described it to me on Wednesday. The first is that Israel's critics see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as central to our challenges, while Petraeus says it's one of many factors "that influence the strategic context in which we operate." The conflict was important enough to mention in a 56-page report that Central Command presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee, but he did not mention it in his own opening remarks before the committee. (For a rundown of what else was in the report, check out this post by Michael Weiss.)

The second major mistake opponents of Israel are making about Petraeus is to conflate his saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is important, with taking sides in the conflict one way or another. Petraeus is making the narrow point that whether there is progress on the peace front (or a lack thereof) will affect the regional dynamics. That isn't the same as taking the position that the primary barrier to peace is that Jews are building homes where they aren't supposed to, and if only we could get Jews to stop living in the wrong places, then we'd be able to create peace. It isn't saying anything about Israeli intransigence. And he certainly isn't saying that U.S. lives are being put at risk by Israel. As Petraeus told me, "There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all." Yes, as Duss notes, he did say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "articulately and clearly conveyed our policy." But as a military officer, he can't set U.S. policy, so of course he's going to want to publicly affirm that he supports current policy.

Furthermore, Petraeus also mentioned that there were "a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist.” So I could just as easily claim that Petraeus thinks America should put more pressure on Palestinians to abandon terrorism, and that he thinks that their unwillingness to recognize Israel's right to exist is the true barrier to peace, and thus, makes his job harder. But I won't, because I don't want to put any words in his mouth.
Max Boot adds:
The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.” I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong—at the White House, not at Central Command.
Finally, it's worth noting that ABC's Jake Tapper picked up on this story, including a link to Klein's blog. I know that some of us were a bit unhappy with some of Tapper's questions to David Axelrod two weeks ago, so it's good to see that he doesn't have an agenda.


At 8:54 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The anti-Israel crowd likes to advance the notion the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central conflict in the Middle East that fuels all the others in the region.

That's not even true. The violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, to mention only a handful examples, have nothing to do with what goes in Israel. And they would still exist even if Israel had never come into being.

Such spin is an error of reductionism of the very worst sort. No one would argue that if by some miracle, Israel and the Palestinians settled their differences tomorrow, the Middle East would suddenly become a less dangerous place. Yet the fact people still make it shows they are either lazy or completely uniformed about what goes on in the region.


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