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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, November 9.
1) "Unflinching?" Must be bad

Doing some research, I came across an article Tumult of Arab Spring Prompts Worries in Washington, a news analysis, by Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times. One item that caught my eye:
Unflinching support for Israel has, of course, been a constant of American foreign policy for years, often at the cost of political and diplomatic support elsewhere in the region, but the Obama administration has also sought to improve ties with Turkey after the chill that followed the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Judith Miller, writing in the Daily cites a paper written Robert Blackwill and Walter Slocombe arguing that Israel is a strategic asset for the United States. (h/t Daily Alert) Miller summarizes the report:
American Jews and other supporters of Israel fulminated. But it took a while, predictably, for foreign policy aficionados to examine these premises systematically. Two senior national security gurus finally have done so, and have shredded the argument. “Israel, a Strategic Asset for the United States,” written by Robert Blackwill, who served in four White Houses, most recently as George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, and Walter Slocombe, a senior Pentagon official in the Carter and Clinton administrations who worked as a defense adviser in Iraq in 2003, concludes that America’s close ties to Israel have advanced, not jeopardized, its national security interests. The 17-page essay, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, lists numerous ways in which the U.S. has benefited from its relations with Israel, especially in the defense and intelligence sectors. It also argues America should reject the notion of Israel as a strategic liability and openly embrace it as a strategic asset. ... “Since 1973, we can’t find a single example of tangible actions by Arab governments for which the U.S. paid a price for its relationship with Israel,” Blackwill told me at the Council on Foreign Relations last week. “Not one,” Slocombe agreed.
Newspapers are often quick to cite complaints of Arab leaders about America's support for Israel. This essay argues that these displays of pique are not indicative of any actions taken or not taken on account of the purported outrage over Israeli actions.

2) Diehl with it

In recent years Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post has noted certain anomalies about the Middle East and its major players. In 2009, shortly after the election of Barack Obama, Diehl wrote Abbas's waiting game:
It's true, of course, that if Obama is to broker a Middle East settlement he will have to overcome the recalcitrance of Netanyahu and his Likud party, which has not yet reconciled itself to the idea that Israel will have to give up most of the West Bank and evacuate tens of thousands of settlers. But Palestinians remain a long way from swallowing reality as well. Setting aside Hamas and its insistence that Israel must be liquidated, Abbas -- usually described as the most moderate of Palestinian leaders -- last year helped doom Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, by rejecting a generous outline for Palestinian statehood. In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank -- though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert "accepted the principle" of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees -- something no previous Israeli prime minister had done -- and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert's peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it's almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further. Abbas turned it down. "The gaps were wide," he said.
In the end Diehl notes that Abbas planned to wait until all his demands were met. He had no sense of urgency to make peace. Earlier this year, Diehl asked Why is Obama so tough on Israel and so timid on Syria?
What’s extraordinary about Obama’s initiative is not its details, which don’t differ meaningfully from the ideas of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or, for that matter, several of Netanyahu’s predecessors as prime minister. It is, rather, its superpower chutzpah — the brazen disregard for the views and political posture of this Israeli government, and the fecklessness and disarray of the current Palestinian leadership. Never mind, goes the implicit Euro-American line: We will make this happen. What could account for such an attitude, given the timorous approach to the rest of the region? Part of it is understandable frustration with years of Israeli-Palestinian impasse, which is magnified by the conviction in much of official Washington that the terms for peace are well known and widely accepted, and need only be implemented. Part is legitimate worry that the Israeli- Palestinian front, though quiet now, could explode later this year after a United Nations vote, helping extremists in places such as Egypt. Yet the damage to U.S. interests from a U.N. resolution on Palestine would pale compared to the consequences of an Iranian-backed victory by Assad in Syria or the failure of NATO in Libya. Those crises have not moved Obama to lead. There is, in his diplomacy, an implicit conviction that the United States must first of all deal with the sins of its own client. “Here are the facts we must all confront,” Obama declared in his speech to the AIPAC conference last month, before proceeding to deliver a lecture about Palestinian demography, Arab politics and the United Nations. It wasn’t that he was entirely wrong. But it’s revealing of this president that he is determined to speak truth to Binyamin Netanyahu — and not to Bashar al-Assad.
Given this background, it's no surprise that he's now followed up with Why do Sarkozy and Obama hate Netanyahu?:
In other words, Netanyahu has been an occasionally difficult but ultimately cooperative partner. He can be accused of moving too slowly and offering too little, but not of failing to heed American initiatives. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? For five of the six months of the Israeli settlement moratorium he refused Obama’s appeals to begin negotiations; after two meetings, he returned to his intransigence. Rejecting a personal appeal from Obama, he took his bid for statehood to the United Nations, where he may yet force the United States to use its Security Council veto. France last month joined an appeal from the Mideast diplomatic “quartet” — the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations — for Israel and the Palestinians to return unconditionally to negotiations. Netanyahu accepted. Abbas said no. Abbas, it’s fair to say, has gone from resisting U.S. and French diplomacy to actively seeking to undermine it. Yet it is Netanyahu whom Sarkozy finds “unbearable,” and whom Obama groans at having to “deal with every day.” If there is an explanation for this, it must be personal; in substance, it makes little sense.
Paying attention to details, Diehl has persuasively shown that Netanyahyu isn't as inimical to peace, as often portrayed.

Interesting then how a blogger at Balloon Juice referred to this column (via memeorandum):
Who does Diehl think he’s writing for at this point? Is there anyone who reads his stuff who doesn’t think he’s a shameless AIPAC/Likud party shill? Even the Weekly Standard isn’t interested in this stupid story, yet even the liberal Washington Post editorial board is using it as a pretext to bash Obama’s policy on the Middle East. What an embarrassment that once proud paper has become.
Diehl, has established through careful reporting that politics alone don't explain the Sarkozy/Obama exchange about Netanyahu and Diehl's critic calls him names. And here's Andrew Sullivan on the incident:
November 22's foreign policy debate for the GOP looks likely to be centered on how strongly the candidates can back a lying, foreign prime minister in a neo-fascist coalition over their own president, desperately trying to prevent Israel from unilaterally launching World War III. In a world of 7 billion people, the GOP's foreign policy reaches its most emotionally intense in fusing US policy with a country of 7 million people thousands of miles away, with no serious strategic importance to the US, and, in some ways, a strategic iability.
On one side there's careful reporting; on the other there's name calling and unsubstantiated allegations.

And this is a riot. What's the New York Times headline? Journalists Overhear Private Exchange Between Obama and Sarkozy, Report Says. Right that's the news. Not what the exchange was about. Or that journalists apparently conspired to withhold disclosing a newsworthy but embarrassing exchange between two world leaders.

3) Who is isolated?

The editors of the New York Times in Palestinians and the U.N.:
If the Palestinians want full U.N. membership, they have to win the backing of the Security Council. The United States will undoubtedly veto any resolution, and that will further isolate both Israel and Washington. The Palestinians may instead ask the General Assembly to recognize them as a state or give them observer status as a state. Either would undoubtedly pass. But it would be in name only. After the initial exhilaration, Palestinians would be even more alienated, while extremists would try to exploit that disaffection.
Today the New York Times reports, Palestinian Bid for U.N. Membership Faces Near-Certain Defeat:
There was little likelihood from the beginning that the attempt would be successful, because the United States had vowed to veto it. But in submitting the bid in September, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, appeared ready to try to claim at least a moral victory by having yet another Palestinian initiative felled by an American veto. The membership committee’s report will go to the Council, where, in theory, 9 of the 15 members could still vote in favor of accepting the Palestinians. But it has become increasingly apparent that there are not sufficient votes to get a resolution passed, and it is possible that it may not even come to a vote.
Abbas has set himself up for a major fail. The Obama administration deserves credit for standing firm on its veto threat. However, more effective diplomacy should have been able to derail Abbas's effort earlier.

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