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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Obama setting Israel up to be scapegoat for Syria failure

Is President Obama setting Israel up to be the scapegoat for the failure of his Syria policy? Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, September 3.
Setting Israel up for the President's Failure
Politico reports:
The Obama administration is using a time-tested pitch to get Congress to back military strikes in Syria: It will help protect Israel.
Right. The reason the administration is so intent on lobbing a few cruise missiles at Syria is to protect Israel. Secretary of State Kerry said:
“I think the stakes of upholding the international standard of behavior that has been in place since 1925, after World War I, that only Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein have breached that in time of war since then, and now Assad joins them, I think to contemplate that the Congress of the United States would turn its back on Israel, on Jordan, on Turkey, on our allies in the region, turn its back on innocent Syrian people who have been slaughtered by this gas and those who yet may be subject to an attack, … I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people,” Kerry told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
Similarly, on Face the Nation the Secretary of State said:
Well, of course it is critical that we go through the process of explaining to congress. But each day that goes by, Major, this case is getting stronger. I mean, today I'm at liberty to tell that you we now have samples back from first responders in east Damascus. Those samples of hair and blood have been tested, and they have reported positive for signatures of sarin. So we are now getting a stronger case each day, and I think that makes even more compelling that the congress of the United States be counted with the president in this effort so that Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, all of our friend and allies in the region, will know that the United States is acting in concert in a way that really sends a powerful message about our credibility, about our intentions to uphold international norms, and that will have an impact on other decisions down the road. And I'm very explicit about it with respect to Iran and North Korea or others. The credibility of the United States is on the line here. And I believe the congress will do the right thing.
That's the pitch? Kerry, who is so worried about Israel's future that he's focused, laser-like, on negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, while Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Iraq are burning, now makes the case that if patriotism isn't enough to motivate legislators to support the President, then fidelity to Israel should motivate them. Such sensitivity and subtlety in messaging! https://twitter.com/Doranimated/status/374459435344601088 I'm not just inferring something from the secretary of state's words. This is the messaging coming from the White House. The New York Times reports:
“I do not believe the Congress of the United States will turn its back on this moment,” Mr. Kerry said on the NBC News program “Meet The Press.” “The challenge of Iran, the challenges of the region, the challenge of standing up for and standing beside our ally, Israel, helping to shore up Jordan — all of these things are very, very powerful interests and I believe Congress will pass it.” One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called the American Israel Political Affairs Committee “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” — against catastrophic use of chemical weapons — “we’re in trouble.” Israeli officials have been concerned by Mr. Obama’s decision, but have been mostly restrained in their public comments. Mr. Kerry talked on Sunday with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
The AIPAC paragraph is kind of baffling, but it seems that the administration is complaining that even though it's acting in Israel's interests, those ungrateful folks at AIPAC aren't supporting them. (If there's one positive in this story, it's that President Obama didn't enlist "pro-Israel, pro-peace" J-Street to do his campaigning. They may support him, but they have no substantial support in the real pro-Israel community. What a backhanded insult!) https://twitter.com/michaelphirsh/status/374251930224062464 Similarly, Politico reports, Israel Lobby Silent on Syria:
The Israel lobby, including the high-profile American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups, isn’t pushing for intervention even as evidence emerged this week that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its citizens. The silence could be a problem for Obama, since the Jewish groups are connected across the political spectrum, wielding influence from the far right to liberal Democrats on issues critical to the Middle East — especially when it comes to the use of military force. And while Obama has been willing to strike a foreign country without Congress’s approval — as he did in Libya — this time he not only faces a reluctant Congress, but a vocal chorus of Republican and Democratic lawmakers publicly advocating against entanglement.
The article notes a reason for the reticence. Pro-Israel activists were strongly associated with the war in Iraq and many in the mainstream media blamed the pro-Israel crowd for encouraging the war. (Left unmentioned is that Israeli leadership was skeptical about the war. Then, as now, it was more concerned with Iran.) https://twitter.com/AlMonitor/status/374434228294807553 Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner of the New York Times similarly report Obama’s Syria Decision Greeted Silently by Israel. The article notes that Israel is officially keeping silent about Syria. Perhaps the best quote in the article is here:
“The only thing that is clear is that Israel will take the heat either way,” a senior Israeli government official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of Mr. Netanyahu’s directive. “If we remain on the sidelines, it will be seen as defiant criticism of President Obama. And if we don’t, it will be seen as interference. There is nothing we can do to come out clean.”
Exactly. Given two articles in the New York Times and one in Politico asking why Israel and pro-Israel groups are quiet, one would have to think that these stenographers have gotten the message from the administration that it is unhappy that Israel isn't showing proper appreciation for its efforts. But, of course, I don't think that President Obama really wanted to act against Syria, but his administration is cynically setting up Israel to be blamed for his own failure. Why am I convinced of this? Because last week it was reported Israel, after confirming that the Assad regime was guilty, that was pushing for an American response. In fact the New York Times published an op-ed by Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea that insisted:
President Obama is moving slowly and cautiously toward some form of military action. He is not trigger-happy. Looking at the tough choices he has to make at home and abroad, it seems to me a reasonable approach. Other leaders, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, criticize him, directly or indirectly, for being too cautious. Since none of them is willing or capable to take this decision, they should be more humble.
Last week, official Israel was too aggressive in demanding action; now, apparently, it's not supportive enough. What's changed? (I'm using the New York Times for this analysis. Other reports suggest that Israel is indeed pushing the President. More recently, the New York Times reported that Israel's President Shimon Peres spoke out in support of President Obama; the point of the article was to contrast Peres' support with Netanyahu's reticence.) https://twitter.com/sethacohen33/status/374533869539958784 What has changed, is the President's decision to seek Congressional approval before striking Syria. According to David Horovitz, Israel's leadership was appalled by the President's change of heart.
Though dutifully silent in public, Jerusalem has quickly internalized the damage already done — by the sight of an uncertain president, all too plainly wary of grappling with a regime that has gradually escalated its use of poison gas to mass murder its own people; a regime, moreover, that can do relatively little damage to the United States, and whose threats Israel’s leadership and most of its people were taking in their stride. At the very least, Obama has given Assad more time to ensure that any eventual strike causes a minimum of damage, and to claim initial victory in facing down the United States. At the very least, too, Obama has led the Iranians to believe that presidential promises to prevent them attaining nuclear weapons need not necessarily be taken at face value.
If Israel were to be vocal it would be by this irresponsible and very public change of heart. Really what Israel does or doesn't do isn't so important. What is important is what an official Syrian newspaper reported (via memeorandum):
A Syrian state-run newspaper on Sunday called President Barack Obama's decision to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Syria "the start of the historic American retreat."
Indeed, anyone who read this account of how President Obama changed his mind about consulting Congress would reach the same conclusion: the administration has no intention of attacking Syria.
Obama had been leaning toward attacking Syria without a congressional vote for the past week, the officials said. Obama was convinced he had the evidence to back up a strike and as a result dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to make a passionate case for U.S. action. But only hours after Kerry called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a thug and a murderer" and accused his regime of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, Obama changed his mind as he walked across the South Lawn with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the officials said. ... The plan was immediately met with robust resistance from a whiplashed Obama team who had listened to Kerry lay out the administration's strongest case yet for action against Assad. "My friends, it matters here if nothing is done," Kerry had argued. "It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens."
All that's needed now is a scapegoat. With the aid of his allies in the media, President Obama is deftly preparing one.

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