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Ed Webb

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, by Tom Junod - Esquire - 0 views

  • "President Bush would never have been able to scale this up the way President Obama has because he wouldn't have had the trust of the public and the Congress and the international community," says the former administration official familiar with the targeting process. "That trust has been enabling."
  • It is only human to have faith in the "human intelligence" generated by the agents, operatives, and assets of the CIA. But that's the point: What's human is always only human, and often wrong. America invaded Iraq on the pretext of intelligence that was fallacious if not dishonest. It confidently asserted that the detainees in Guantánamo were the "worst of the worst" and left them to the devices of CIA interrogators before admitting that hundreds were hapless victims of circumstance and letting them go. You, Mr. President, do not have a Guantánamo. But you are making the same characterization of those you target that the Bush administration made of those it detained, based on the same sources. The difference is that all your sentences are final, and you will never let anybody go. To put it as simply as possible: Six hundred men have been released uncharged from Guantánamo since its inception, which amounts to an admission of a terrible mistake. What if they had never even been detained? What if, under the precepts of the Lethal Presidency, they had simply been killed?
  • Collateral damage used to be anyone killed who was not targeted. Now the term "collateral damage" applies only to women and children. "My understanding is that able-bodied males of military age are considered fair game," says the former administration official, "if they're in the proximity of a known militant."
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  • This is what Senator Carl Levin, who receives regular briefings on "clandestine activities" as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: "My understanding is that there was adequate justification." How? "It was justified by the presence of a high-value target."This is what his aunt says about his death in an e-mail: "We were all afraid that Abdulrahman would get caught up in the turmoil in Yemen. However, none of us thought that Abdulrahman will face a danger from the sky. We thought that the American administration, the world leader and superpower will be far and wide from such cruelty. Some may say Abdulrahman was collateral damage; some said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We say that Abdulrahman was in his father's land and was dining under the moon light, it looked to him, us and the rest of the world to be the right time and place. He was not in a cave in Waziristan or Tora Bora, he was simply a kid enjoying his time in the country side. The ones that were in the wrong place and time were the American drones, nothing else."
  • You have been free to keep the American people safe by expanding the Lethal Presidency — by approving the expanded use of signature strikes in Yemen and by defying an edict of the Pakistani parliament and continuing drone strikes in Pakistan. You have even begun thinking of using the Lethal Presidency as an example for other countries that want Lethal Presidencies of their own.
  • the danger of the Lethal Presidency is that the precedent you establish is hardly ever the precedent you think you are establishing, and whenever you seem to be describing a program that is limited and temporary, you are really describing a program that is expansive and permanent. You are a very controlled man, and as Lethal President, it's natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidency. It's even natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidencies of other countries, simply by the power of your example. But the Lethal Presidency incorporates not just drone technology but a way of thinking about drone technology, and this way of thinking will be your ultimate export. You have anticipated the problem of proliferation. But an arms race involving drones would be very different from an arms race involving nuclear arms, because the message that spread with nuclear arms was that these weapons must never be used. The message that you are spreading with drones is that they must be — that using them amounts to nothing less than our moral duty.
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.
  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

Obama: Global arms dealer-in-chief | Middle East Eye - 2 views

  • A newly released report reveals Obama is the greatest arms exporter since the Second World War. The dollar value of all major arms deals overseen by the first five years of the Obama White House now exceeds the amount overseen by the Bush White House in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion
  • I knew there were record deals with the Saudis, but to outsell the eight years of Bush, to sell more than any president since World War II, was surprising even to me, who follows these things quite closely. The majority, 60 percent, have gone to the Persian Gulf and Middle East, and within that, the Saudis have been the largest recipient of things like US fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters, bombs, guns, almost an entire arsenal
  • The Congressional Research Service found that since October 2010 alone, President Obama has agreed to sell $90.4 billion in arms to the Gulf kingdom.“That President Obama would so enthusiastically endorse arming such a brutal authoritarian government is unsurprising, since the United States is by far the leading arms dealer (with 47 percent of the world total) to what an annual State Department report classifies as the world’s “least democratically governed states,” notes Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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  • In 2008, the United Nations banned the use of cluster munitions - an agreement the US is yet to ratify. Why? Cluster bombs are the number one seller for Textron Systems Corporation – a Wall Street-listed company located in Providence, Rhode Island
  • In February of this year, the Obama administration announced it would allow the sale of US manufactured armed drones to its allies in the Middle East
Ed Webb

Syria Comment » Archives » "Bush White House Wanted to Destroy the Syrian Sta... - 0 views

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nate grefe

Op-Ed - Bin Laden to U.S.: "Drop Israel, Let's Talk" - Worldpress.org - 0 views

  • In a 12-minute address on audiotape, al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden spoke to the American people on the 8th anniversary of 9/11.
  • His address (assuming it is his voice on the tape), directed "to the American people," asserted that the main reason for the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, was U.S. support for Israel as well as "some other injustices."
  • Interestingly, bin Laden claimed the war between the two "nations" (i.e the American nation and the Islamic "Umma") can stop if the White House eliminates what he called the "Israel lobby."
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  • Bin Laden was referring mainly to Bush's War on Terror, but could also have been referring to what the Obama administration has recently called the "war of necessity."
  • Bin Laden went on to say that "our two Umma," meaning America and the Muslim world, "are both victims" of one aggressor: those "who control the White House, particularly the Israel lobby and the multinational corporations."
  • Bin Laden also praised President Obama for having "admitted at last in his speech in Cairo the existence of our people's miseries."
  • However, he believes that President Obama won't be able to meet that challenge. "Obama is a mustad'aaf." In some of the media analysis in English the term was translated automatically as "Obama is weak." But that translation is not accurate. "Mustdaa'f" here means "victimized" or forced to act against his original intentions.
  • But among the many messages bin Laden is sending, there is also an attempt to create a division within the Obama administration by inciting those he believes are anti-Israel to pressure the American president to curtail the influence of the so-called "Israel lobby" inside the White House.
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    supposed bin Laden address. Focuses on Israel Lobby
Ed Webb

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq, Over and Over and Over Again - 0 views

  • Reviewing Biden’s record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection. He was not just another Democratic hawk navigating the trauma of 9/11 in a misguided way. He didn’t merely call his vote for a disastrous war part of “a march to peace and security.” Biden got the Iraq war wrong before and throughout invasion, occupation, and withdrawal. Convenient as it is to blame Bush—who, to be clear, bears primary and eternal responsibility for the disaster—Biden embraced the Iraq war for what he portrayed as the result of his foreign policy principles and persisted, most often in error, for the same reasons. 
  • “I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks [my record has] been very good.” That will be important context should Biden become president. He’s the favorite of many in Democratic foreign policy circles who believe in resetting the American geopolitical position to what it was the day before Trump was elected, rather than considering it critical context for why Trump was elected. 
  • National Democrats embraced the war on terrorism with enthusiasm and, with few exceptions, were disinclined to challenge Bush on foreign policy even as that foreign policy became more militant and extreme
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  • Biden’s hearings highlighted the dangers of occupation, such as the basic uncertainty around what would replace Saddam Hussein, as well as the bloody, long, and expensive commitment required to midwife a democratic Iraq. “In many ways, those hearings were remarkably prescient about what was to happen,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide on the committee and a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. “He and [GOP Sen. Richard] Lugar talked about not the day after but the decade after. If we did go in, they talked about the lack of a plan to secure any peace that followed the intervention.”
  • But the balance of expert testimony concerned guessing at Saddam’s weapons program, the pragmatic questions of invading, and the diplomatic legwork of an action whose justice—if not necessarily its wisdom—was presumed
  • the regnant foreign policy consensus in America: Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had sealed his fate by doing so. It was an enormous factual mistake born out of an inability to see that Saddam believed that transparent disarmament would spell his doom at the hands of Iran. This misapprehension led advocates to accept that the U.S.—preferably with others, but alone if necessary—was justified or even obligated to get rid of Saddam
  • Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, convinced the White House to attempt securing United Nations support for the war. It was a cynical maneuver: the Security Council could accept additional weapons inspections but not war; Bush could claim he tried for an internationalist solution before invading unilaterally. Its primary effect was to legitimize the war in the eyes of uncomfortable congressional Democrats who had made the tactical error of disputing the war for insufficient multilateralism rather than arguing it was wrong
  • For Biden, the critical point, “what this is about,” was America daring to “enforce” U.N. Security Council disarmament resolutions that the U.N. was saying did not justify war. When the world stood against America, in the forum Biden considered critical and Bush considered pretextual, America would simply act in the world’s name. He approvingly quoted the infamous Henry Kissinger: “As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a special, unilateral capacity, and indeed obligation, to lead in implementing its convictions, but it also has a special obligation to justify its actions by principles that transcend the assertions of preponderance of power.” America’s confidence in its nobility was, in the end, all the justification it required. 
  • Biden acknowledged that the “imminence and inevitability” of the threat Iraq posed was “exaggerated,” although that recognition was irrelevant to both his reasoning and his vote. He performed an end-zone dance over Bush advisers who favored what he called the doctrine of preemption—a euphemism for wars of aggression—as if his vote did not authorize exactly the preemptive war those advisers wanted. The trouble Biden saw was that elevating preemption to a foreign policy “doctrine” would grant “every nation an unfettered right of preemption.” Left unsaid was that it would be better for America to keep that unfettered right for itself.
  • Nothing that followed went the way Biden expected. Bush did not share Biden’s distinction between the U.N. weapons-inspection process and the invasion. Iraq did not passively accept its occupation. And Biden did not reap the political benefit of endorsing the war that seemed so obvious to the Democratic consultant class in the autumn of 2002. 
  • Iraq was an abstraction to Biden—as it was, ironically, to the neoconservatives Biden had criticized—a canvas on which to project theories of American power
  • Biden was unprepared to break from prevention, which is always the prerogative of hegemonic powers. Boxed in, he continued to argue that the trouble was Bush elevating preemption to centrality in foreign policy, and fretted that predatory states would cite that “doctrine” to prey on weaker ones. He neglected to see that all those states needed was the example of the Iraq war itself. Eleven years later, when Biden was vice president, Vladimir Putin cited Iraq as a reason the U.S. had no standing to criticize him for invading Ukraine. 
  • Biden praised the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a shockingly corrupt and incompetent organization. Its chief, Jerry Bremer, was “first-rate,” Biden said mere months after Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, the greatest gift America could have given the insurgency
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s police force was left to former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Biden called “a serious guy with a serious team.” Iraq’s police would soon become indistinguishable from sectarian death squads; Kerik would soon plead guilty to tax fraud and other federal corruption charges
  • By the next summer, with Iraq in flames, Biden continued his misdiagnosis. The original sin wasn’t the war itself, it was Bush’s stewardship—the same stewardship Biden praised in 2002. “Because we waged a war in Iraq virtually alone, we are responsible for the aftermath virtually alone,” he thundered at the 2004 Democratic convention. The intelligence “was hyped to justify going to war,” Biden continued, causing “America’s credibility and security [to] have suffered a terrible blow.” Yet Biden made no call for withdrawal. It was easier to pretend that Bush was waging a different war than the one he empowered Bush to wage. 
  • The U.S., unable to win the war it chose, would be better off reshaping the map of Iraq into something that better suited it. The proposal was a natural outgrowth of viewing Iraq as an abstraction. Now that Iraq had undermined American power, Iraq would be subject to a kind of dismemberment, a theoretically cleaner problem to solve than a civil war or a weak client state. In September 2007, Biden prevailed upon his fellow senators to endorse his proposal on a staggering 75-23 vote. There was no support for the idea among actual Iraqis outside Kurdistan, but they were beside the imperial point.
  • 2007 saw Biden’s most valorous act on Iraq. With the war a morass, Biden secured $23 billion, far more than the Pentagon requested, to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, whose hull design proved more survivable against the insurgency’s improvised bombs. Replacing insufficiently armored Humvees with MRAPs was “a passion,” he said. While the number of lives MRAPs saved over the course of the program’s $45 billion lifespan has been disputed, the Pentagon estimated in 2012 that over 2,000 service members are alive today because of the vehicle. Biden counted securing the funding for the MRAP among his greatest congressional achievements.
  • Barack Obama had opposed the Iraq war, but was hardly afflicted with the “distrust of the use of American power” that Biden feared in 2004. Selecting Biden as his vice president laundered Biden’s reputation. No longer was Biden the man whose faith in American exceptionalism had driven the U.S. into a morass. He was the lovable uncle in aviators who washed his metaphorical Trans Am on the White House lawn. Obama gave him responsibility for a three-year project of U.S. withdrawal, one that Biden considers an accomplishment. 
  • Biden and other U.S. officials appeared at times dangerously unconcerned about Maliki’s consolidation of power that once again marginalized Sunni Iraq, which the war had already proven would give jihadis the opportunity they needed
  • Biden reflected America’s schizophrenic attitude toward ending post-9/11 wars, in which leaving a residual force amidst an unsettled conflict does not count as continuing a war.
  • “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” the Times quoted him. Instead, the following year, the Iraqi parliament did no such thing
  • Biden is the last of the pre-Obama generation of Democratic foreign policy grandees who enabled the Iraq war. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both lost their presidential bids, saddled in both cases with the legacy of the war they supported
  • A President Biden is likely to find himself a man out of time. Writing in The Guardian, David Adler and Ben Judah recently described Biden as a “restorationist” in foreign policy, aiming at setting the American geopolitical clock back to what it was before Trump took office. Yet now an emergent China, a resurgent Russia, and the ascent of nationalism and oligarchy across Europe, India, and South America have fragmented the America-centric internationalist order that Biden represents. While Trump has accelerated these dynamics, he is far less responsible for them than is the martial post-9/11 course of U.S. foreign policy that wrecked itself, most prominently in Iraq.
Ed Webb

Tough Guy Leaking - Salon.com - 0 views

  • The primary fear-mongering agenda item for the National Security and Surveillance State industry is now cyberwarfare
  • as is usually true when it comes to Washington warnings about the evils of Others — this is pure projection
  • Administration defenders will undoubtedly insist that unleashing cyber warfare was all necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and impeding an Israeli attack — even though the U.S. Government acknowledges there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons; Iran has the absolute right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, and it is far from clear that this virus meaningfully impeded Iran’s nuclear program. But no matter: once a Manichean storyline is implanted (Evil Iran v. Virtuous America), all acts of aggression by the super-hero against the villain are inherently justified.
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  • This morning’s story by Sanger is but the latest in a long line of leaks about classified programs that have two attributes in common: (1) they come from senior Obama administration officials; and (2) they are designed to depict President Obama, in an Election Year, as a super-tough, hands-on, no-nonsense Warrior. Put another way, the administration that is pathologically fixated on secrecy and harshly punishing whistleblowers routinely leaks national security secrets when doing so can politically benefit the President.
  •  Dear Vital Jewish Voters in Crucial Swing States: behold what this great leader did in secret to pummel Iran.
  • consider the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to prosecute former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling under espionage statutes for allegedly telling The New York Times‘ James Risen — almost ten years ago — about dangerous mistakes the CIA made in trying to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program (mistakes which actually resulted in helping the Iranian program)
  • aside from the tried-and-true strategy of Democratic politicians benefiting politically from provoking criticism from the “Left,” Obama officials (and their apparatchiks) are eager to depict him as a violence-wielding aggressor. As Digby put it this week, “the [Obama] campaign is happy about all this condemnation” aimed at the drone program as it “proves [his] macho bona fides.” Obama officials will undoubtedly be just as pleased with any objections to waging undeclared, unauthorized cyber-warfare on Iran’s perfectly legal nuclear program, thus bringing the world yet another new means of destructive warfare
Ed Webb

Leaving - 0 views

  • It will seem counterintuitive to many that someone would trade “senior official” status for a job in a “think tank” to exert more influence. But I had concluded in the late summer of 2012 that President Barack Obama’s words of a year earlier about Assad stepping aside were empty, and that my efforts in government to bring dead words to life were futile.  Instead of implementing what had sounded like the commander-in-chief’s directive, the State Department was saddled in August 2012 by the White House with a make-work, labor-intensive project cataloguing the countless things that would have to be in place for a post-Assad Syria to function. But how to get to post-Assad? The White House had shut down the sole interagency group examining options for achieving that end.
  • My job since April 2009, as a deputy to Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, was to build a foundation for Syrian-Israeli and eventually Israeli-Lebanese peace. Progress on the former seemed to be happening. Yet by using deadly force on his own citizens, Assad ended, perhaps forever, a process that might have recovered for Syria the territory lost by his Minister of Defense father in 1967.  When the full story of Syria’s betrayal by a family and its entourage is written, the decision of Assad to sink a potentially promising peace mediation will merit a chapter.
  • President Obama would caricature external alternatives by creating and debating straw men: invented idiots calling for the invasion and occupation of Syria.  He would deal with internal dissent by taking officials through multi-step, worst-case, hypothetical scenarios of what might happen in the wake of any American attempt, no matter how modest, to complicate regime mass murder. The ‘logical’ result would inevitably involve something between World War III and an open-ended, treasury-draining American commitment.  The result of these exercises in self-disarmament would be Vladimir Putin and his ilk concluding that American power was, as a practical matter, equal to Palau’s; Ukraine could be dismembered, NATO allies threatened, and the United States itself harassed with impunity. He did not mean to do it, but Barack Obama’s performance in Syria produced global destabilization.
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  • It was not until the fall of 2014 when it became clear what was motivating him. The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reported on a “secret” letter from the president to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in which (among other things) Mr. Obama reportedly assured Khamenei that American military power aimed at ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh) in Syria would not target the Assad regime. But why give Khamenei such a reckless assurance, one that would surely be relayed to Assad, enhancing his already massive sense of impunity, with deadly consequences for Syrian civilians?
  • Tehran was indeed dependent on Bashar al-Assad to provide strategic depth for and support to its own jewel in the crown: Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Barack Obama feared that protecting Syrian civilians could anger Iran and cause it to walk away from nuclear talks. From his point of view, the prices paid by Syrians, Syria’s neighbors, and American allies in the region and beyond were worth the grand prize. It seems never to have occurred to him that Iran wanted the nuclear deal for its own reasons, and did not require being appeased in Syria. I was told by senior Iranian ex-officials in track II discussions that they were stunned and gratified by American passivity in Syria.
  • The Trump administration is infinitely more open to considering policy alternatives than was its predecessor. Yet in Washington’s hyper-partisan state, some who fully understood and opposed the catastrophic shortcomings of the Obama approach to Syria reflexively criticize anything the new administration does or considers doing to end the Assad regime’s free ride for civilian slaughter. Letting Syrian civilians pay the price for self-serving political motives may never go out of style in some Western political circles.
  • I remain hopeful that American leaders will, at last, arrive at a Syria policy worthy of the United States.  Such a policy would stabilize a post-ISIS Syria east of the Euphrates River in a way that would encourage the emergence of a Syrian governmental alternative to a crime family and its murderous entourage. 
  • if necessary, apply modest military measures to complicate civilian mass murder, and not only when the murder weapon is sarin nerve agent. 
  • such a policy, while being open to any genuine offer of Russian cooperation in Syria, would recognize that (in the words of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats) “Frankly, the United States is under attack.” He was referring to Russia.
Ed Webb

Adviser says Trump won't rip up Iran deal, signals he may not move embassy | The Times ... - 1 views

  • adviser to President-elect Donald Trump said the new US leader will “review” the Iran nuclear agreement, but will stop short of ripping up the landmark international pact.
  • signaled that Trump might not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem immediately and indicated he would make negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a priority right off the bat.
  • “He will take the agreement, review it, send it to Congress, demand from the Iranians to restore a few issues or change a few issues, and there will be a discussion,” Phares added. “It could be a tense discussion but the agreement as is right now — $750 billion to the Iranian regime without receiving much in return and increasing intervention in four countries — that is not going to be accepted by the Trump administration.”
    • Ed Webb
       
      Note that it is a multilateral deal, so five other powers would also have to agree, as well as Iran itself.
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  • appeared to represent a break with some comments made by other Trump advisers and the president-elect himself, and highlighted persisting confusion over what the contours of a Trump administration’s foreign policy may look like
  • State Department spokesman Mark Toner warned that nothing was stopping Trump from tearing up the agreement, rebuffing comments from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the pact was enshrined by the United Nations Security Council and could therefore not be canceled by one party
  • Toner said if Trump pulls out of the agreement, it could fall apart and lead to Iran restarting work toward a bomb
  • Phares also told the BBC that while Trump was committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as other presidential candidates have vowed, he would not do so unilaterally. “Many presidents of the United States have committed to do that, and he said as well that he will do that, but he will do it under consensus,”
  • Phares did not elaborate on what consensus would be sought for such a move, which would break with decades of precedent and put Washington at odds with nearly all United Nations member states.
  • Earlier Thursday, Trump Israel adviser Jason Dov Greenblatt told Israel’s Army Radio that the president-elect would make good on his promise. “I think if he said it, he’s going to do it,” Greenblatt said. “He is different for Israel than any recent president there has been, and I think he’s a man who keeps his word.
  • Phares also indicated efforts for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be a top agenda item for Trump, casting doubt on a claim by Greenblatt that Trump would not necessarily prioritize trying to push the Israelis and Palestinians into peace negotiations.
  • “He will make it a priority if the Israelis and Palestinians want to make it a priority,” Greenblatt said. “He’s not going to force peace upon them, it will have to come from them.”
  • The gap in signals coming out of Trump’s camp is consistent with frustration some have pointed to in trying to demystify what Trump’s foreign policy will be.
  • Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister-without-portfolio who is a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Thursday that the Iran nuclear deal and construction over the Green Line — the two most contentious topics between the Obama administration and Netanyahu — will no longer be a source of tension between Israel and the United States under a Trump presidency.
Ed Webb

Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.
  • sanctions remain in place despite, not because of, the White House, and sources tell me Trump personally is not on board with many of the more hawkish measures his team proposes to counter Putin, a fact underscored by his eyebrow-raising signing statement in December objecting to several tough-on-Russia provisions in a defense bill
  • The language of "principled realism" put forward by McMaster is so un-Trumpian that a top adviser who received a copy told a reporter it was simply “divorced from the reality” of the Trump presidency. “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the administration to stop the president, not to enable him,” says Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy
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  • One leading European official who came to town last January looking for answers told me that, at the time, the establishment types urged him to have “strategic patience”—not coincidentally the same phrase foreign policy hands used to use about North Korea’s nuclear program. By December, he was tired of waiting for Trump to improve. “When, finally, will this strategic patience pay off?” he asked.
  • Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
  • Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”
  • The president really does see the world differently than his own national security adviser
  • “At least the first several months all of us in the building, we thought, ‘We’ve seen this movie before, it’s growing pains, we get it.’ But eventually it seemed clear this was no longer about transition, and this seemed to be about intent rather than incompetence and lack of staffing,” she says. By fall, the word in the Foggy Bottom halls was unequivocal: “The secretary has absolutely lost the building.”
  • for many the rebellion is just to quit, as Bennett has done, on the brink of serving as an ambassador for the first time in her career. On the day she left this fall, she was one of four acting assistant secretaries—all women in a field in which that is still rare—to resign. “I felt like half of my life was probably enough to serve given the climate within the department,” she says, “and given what appears to be such limited respect for expertise gained over long decades of service.”
  • disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”
  • I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”
  • Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself.
  • “Nobody speaks for Trump,” he said. “He speaks for himself. The question is, are they allowed to do things notwithstanding? And the answer is yes, until he decides to pull the rug out from under them. Well, that’s the reality. That’s how this man works.” Isn’t that, I asked, an extraordinary statement of no confidence in the presidency they are supposed to serve? “It’s amazing,” he responded. “Look, the whole thing is amazing. We’ve never been here. But that’s where it is. So, at some point you have to sort of stop saying, you know, ‘This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It is this way.”
Ed Webb

Will the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Relationship Ever Reach a Breaking Point? - 1 views

  • Again and again, the unlikely partners would fall out—usually over the Arab-Israeli conflict, much later over the 9/11 attacks. But the fundamental bargain struck by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then-King Ibn Saud in the waning days of World War II that consummated the U.S.-Saudi relationship 75 years ago would never break
  • lawmakers in oil states such as Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Alaska accuse Saudi Arabia of waging “economic warfare” and have drafted legislation to immediately pull out U.S. troops and furl up a decades-old U.S. security umbrella that has protected the vulnerable Saudi state
  • many in Washington are coming to question the very fundamentals that have underpinned a very special bilateral relationship for 75 years—essentially, U.S. security to ensure the free flow of Saudi oil and Saudi support for U.S. designs in the Middle East
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  • Today’s tensions stem, in many ways, from the original foundations of the odd-couple relationship: an oil-for security bargain that always sought, but never fully managed, to bridge the divide between a liberal democracy and a conservative religious monarchy
  • Some experts believe U.S.-Saudi ties will ultimately weather the storm, as they always have, because of the need for a large, wealthy, and anti-Iran anchor for U.S. interests in the Middle East
  • “But we don’t need the Saudis anymore—this comes in a very different geopolitical environment than previous crises.”
  • Saudi Arabia was one of the only countries in the world that continued to receive U.S. Lend-Lease aid after the end of the war.
  • essentially underwriting the security of an oil-rich desert sheikdom to keep oil supplies flowing—and to keep the Soviets out of the Middle East.
  • Roosevelt had met Ibn Saud hoping for Saudi support for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, which the king vehemently opposed, and the U.S. president—in Saudi eyes—gave his word not to press the matter. But Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, eventually supported the creation of Israel, sowing years of distrust and cries of betrayal in Saudi Arabia
  • “In my conversations with the king, the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince, they favored the effort to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But they wanted more: They wanted us to push on Iran’s actions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and we didn’t do that.”
  • The Iranian revolution, as well as an assault that same year on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, terrified Saudi leadership, who saw how vulnerable their own position was. The revolution, by removing the shah and creating permanent enmity with the United States, left Saudi Arabia as America’s main linchpin in the Middle East, all the bad blood from the oil embargo notwithstanding
  • Fearful of being toppled by religious radicals, Saudi leaders embraced a much more conservative line and empowered hard-line religious leaders in their own country, the first steps toward a decadeslong program to export the austere Wahhabi brand of Islam particular to the kingdom. Soon, wealthy Saudis, including one Osama bin Laden, started funding the Muslim mujahideen who were fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that began the same year as the Iranian revolution. Two decades later, that Saudi lurch toward a harsher official line on religion would end up creating the biggest crisis yet in the special relationship.
  • “The relationship never really recovered from 9/11,”
  • the George W. Bush administration, despite vehement Saudi objections, decided to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Saudis feared that would open the door to greater Iranian influence on their doorstep, as in fact happened.
  • In the end, the United States and Saudi Arabia patched up the dispute, and the oil embargo ended by the spring of 1974. But the scars it left were deep and long-lasting, permanently damaging Saudi Arabia’s image in American popular opinion, and leaving deep-rooted fears that the Saudis could and would use their oil weapon to damage U.S. interests—a fear that has persisted even though the nature of the Saudi oil threat has changed.
  • “King Abdullah was very respectful and liked Obama personally, but there were things they couldn’t understand,” said Westphal, who was present for three of Obama’s record four trips to Saudi Arabia. “‘Why are you supporting Maliki, who is essentially handing over his country to the Iranians? How can you not depose Assad?’”
  • Since 1979, Saudi leaders had seen Iran as the gravest threat to the region and their own security, and U.S. efforts to reach a nuclear deal while seemingly letting Iran continue its destabilizing behavior in the region unsettled the Saudis.
  • “There’s no question that the Arab Spring unsettled the U.S. relationship with the Saudis. For them, the U.S. response [to calls for reform in the Arab world] was way too sympathetic, and the relationship cooled,”
  • Saudi leaders famously rolled out the red carpet, and a glowing orb, for Trump’s first overseas trip as president. It seemed a surprising about-face after Trump’s attacks on Muslims, and repeated attacks on Saudi Arabia, on the campaign trail, when he accused the kingdom of carrying out 9/11, criticized it for sponging off American protection, and threatened an economic boycott. Saudi leaders were happy to overlook Trump’s comments, eager to forge ties with an untested and unorthodox president before other foreign leaders could. “Washington is like Rome in the Roman Empire, and we are like a satellite state—you pay homage to the emperor,” Shihabi said. “You could put a monkey in the White House, and we’d pay homage.”
  • The playbook that has reliably worked since 1945 to ground the bilateral ties in personal relationships with the president now seems to be backfiring. Mohammed bin Salman, reviled by many in Congress for his alleged role in the Khashoggi killing, as well as other continued human rights abuses inside Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, is seen as being exceptionally close to Kushner and Trump. Riding the coattails of a historically unpopular, already-impeached president isn’t the best way to improve Saudi Arabia’s image.
  • Despite decades of close economic ties and military and counterterrorism cooperation, Saudi Arabia never seemed to plant deep roots in the United States that would institutionalize the relationship beyond kings, generals, and presidents. This meant when tensions flared up between the two countries, Riyadh didn’t have many outside allies to come to its defense in Washington
  • Mohammed bin Salman’s foreign-policy excesses: the disastrous war in Yemen, the bizarre virtual kidnapping of Lebanon’s prime minister to pressure Iran and Hezbollah, and an embargo on Qatar, its small neighbor and a key U.S. military partner. At home, there was the regular drumbeat of reports on human rights violations, plus a $100 billion shakedown on wealthy political rivals to consolidate power under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign.
  • As long as they’ve been a country—they’re so young—they really don’t know what their place in the world would be like without the backing of the United States,”
  • Unlike in 1973, when Saudi Arabia used the oil weapon to jack up oil prices and hurt the United States, this time crashing oil prices did the trick. U.S. shale producers need oil prices above $40 a barrel to break even; the Russian-Saudi price war sent the price of oil to $25 and then into the single digits, ensuring a wave of bankruptcies and economic hardship from Texas to North Dakota.
  • “The Saudis have a deep problem with the Democrats, and that’s been clear for a long time. Now they have spoiled their relationship with Republicans,”
  • In the summer of 2019, when Iranian attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf threatened the flow of oil, Trump’s response was to tell allies such as Japan and South Korea to protect their own ships, questioning why the United States should continue to carry out a mission it’s done for decades unless other countries coughed up cash. That fall, key Saudi oil facilities were attacked, allegedly by Iran, knocking out 5 percent of global oil production in a matter of minutes. The U.S. response, other than a Trump tweet, was to do nothing.
  • The bitter recriminations during this spring’s oil price war, coming on the heels of the Khashoggi murder, the continued war in Yemen, and other Saudi missteps, give many observers reason to believe that the relationship is due for a fundamental rethink.
  • as long as the United States continues to view Iran as a major threat, close relations with Saudi Arabia will have a strong appeal
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and Iran are starting to solve their differences without America. - 1 views

  • Saudi and Iranian security officials have been holding secret talks since January without any U.S. involvement—a bit of news that has led some to bemoan a decline in American power as President Biden seeks to withdraw from the Middle East. But in fact, this is good news, both for the United States and for the prospects of calm in the region.
  • The secret talks were first reported last month in the Financial Times. The British news site Amwad.media has since reported that five such meetings have been held, beginning as far back as January, and that some of these sessions have also included officials from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan, on topics ranging from the war in Yemen to security in Syria and Lebanon.
  • Saudi Arabia and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 2016. Their leaders and diplomats have practically hissed war threats at one another since before then. In other words, even if the talks don’t produce many tangible results, we are witnessing a monumental political shift.
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  • A senior Biden adviser told me, during the transition between election and inauguration, that the region would rank “a distant fourth” in Biden’s priorities, after Asia Pacific, Europe, and South America
  • As Trita Parsi recently put it in Foreign Policy, “It’s not so much anything Washington has done but rather what Washington has stopped doing—namely, reassuring its security partners in the region that it will continue to support them unconditionally, no matter what reckless conduct they engage in.”
  • Biden’s pushback also marks a departure from President Obama’s policy, which, in many ways, perpetuated Washington’s accommodation of Saudi interests—a carryover from U.S. policy dating back to just after World War II—despite his avid desire to “pivot” away from the region. For instance, in order to placate Saudi anxieties over his signing of the Iran nuclear deal (which would involve lifting U.S. sanctions against Tehran), Obama allowed Riyadh to use American munitions against Iranian-backed rebels in the Yemen war. (Obama later regretted this concession.)
  • in recent years, the Saudi Crown and other Sunni powers have cozied up with Israel, a partner in the cold war with Iran—which, even if the Saudi-Iranian talks are fruitful, isn’t about to vanish
  • Ignore moral values for a moment. Is there any reason, on strictly geopolitical grounds, for an American president to accommodate Saudi interests when they compromise our own? No.
  • Letting Saudi Arabia and Iran reach some modus operandi on their own does not reflect a decline of American power, nor is anyone likely to see it that way. It’s more likely to be seen as a sensible end to the squandering of our resources.
Bertha Flores

Freeman's Speech - 0 views

  • disinterested
    • Ed Webb
       
      He means 'uninterested,' I think
  • It will be held under the auspices of an American president who was publicly humiliated by Israel’s prime minister on the issue that is at the center of the Israel-Palestine dispute — Israel’s continuing seizure and colonization of Arab land
  • Peace is a pattern of stability acceptable to those with the capacity to disturb it by violence. It is almost impossible to impose. It cannot become a reality, still less be sustained, if those who must accept it are excluded from it. This reality directs our attention to who is not at this gathering in Washington and what must be done to remedy the problems these absences create.
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  • Must Arabs really embrace Zionism before Israel can cease expansion and accept peace?
  • a longstanding American habit of treating Arab concerns about Israel as a form of anti-Semitism and tuning them out. Instead of hearing out and addressing Arab views, U.S. peace processors have repeatedly focused on soliciting Arab acts of kindness toward Israel. They argue that gestures of acceptance can help Israelis overcome their Holocaust-inspired political neuroses and take risks for peace.
  • Arabic has two quite different words that are both translated as “negotiation,” making a distinction that doesn’t exist in either English or Hebrew. One word, “musaawama,” refers to the no-holds-barred bargaining process that takes place in bazaars between strangers who may never see each other again and who therefore feel no obligation not to scam each other. Another, “mufaawadhat,” describes the dignified formal discussions about matters of honor and high principle that take place on a basis of mutual respect and equality between statesmen who seek a continuing relationship.Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s travel to Jerusalem was a grand act of statesmanship to initiate a process of mufaawadhat — relationship-building between leaders and their polities. So was the Arab peace initiative of 2002. It called for a response in kind.
  • I cite this not to suggest that non-Arabs should adopt Arabic canons of thought, but to make a point about diplomatic effectiveness. To move a negotiating partner in a desired direction, one must understand how that partner understands things and help him to see a way forward that will bring him to an end he has been persuaded to want. One of the reasons we can't seem to move things as we desire in the Middle East is that we don’t make much effort to understand how others reason and how they rank their interests. In the case of the Israel-Palestine conundrum, we Americans are long on empathy and expertise about Israel and very, very short on these for the various Arab parties. The essential militarism of U.S. policies in the Middle East adds to our difficulties. We have become skilled at killing Arabs. We have forgotten how to listen to them or persuade them.
  • In foreign affairs, interests are the measure of all things. My assumption is that Americans and Norwegians, indeed Europeans in general, share common interests that require peace in the Holy Land. To my mind, these interests include — but are, of course, not limited to — gaining security and acceptance for a democratic state of Israel; eliminating the gross injustices and daily humiliations that foster Arab terrorism against Israel and its foreign allies and supporters, as well as friendly Arab regimes; and reversing the global spread of religious strife and prejudice, including, very likely, a revival of anti-Semitism in the West if current trends are not arrested. None of these aspirations can be fulfilled without an end to the Israeli occupation and freedom for Palestinians.
  • The Ottoman Turks were careful to ensure freedom of access for worship to adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths when they administered the city. It is an interest that Jews, Christians, and Muslims share.
  • pathologies of political life in the United States that paralyze the American diplomatic imagination. Tomorrow’s meeting may well demonstrate that, the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding, the United States is still unfit to manage the achievement of peace between Israel and the Arabs.
  • the United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance. It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace. It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace. It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress. Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace. There are alternatives to tomorrow’s diplomatic peace pageant on the Potomac. And, as Norway has shown, there is a role for powers other than America in crafting peace in the Holy Land.
  • the American monopoly on the management of the search for peace in Palestine remains unchallenged. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia — once a contender for countervailing influence in the region — has lapsed into impotence. The former colonial powers of the European Union, having earlier laid the basis for conflict in the region, have largely sat on their hands while wringing them, content to let America take the lead. China, India, and other Asian powers have prudently kept their political and military distance. In the region itself, Iran has postured and exploited the Palestinian cause without doing anything to advance it. Until recently, Turkey remained aloof.
  • the Obama administration has engaged the same aging impresarios who staged all the previously failed “peace processes” to produce and direct this one with no agreed script. The last time these guys staged such an ill-prepared meeting, at Camp David in 2000, it cost both heads of delegation, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, their political authority. It led not to peace but to escalating violence. The parties are showing up this time to minimize President Obama’s political embarrassment in advance of midterm elections in the United States, not to address his agenda — still less to address each other’s agendas. These are indeed difficulties. But the problems with this latest — and possibly final — iteration of the perpetually ineffectual “peace process” are more fundamental.
  • t. For the most part, Arab leaders have timorously demanded that America solve the Israel-Palestine problem for them, while obsequiously courting American protection against Israel, each other, Iran, and — in some cases — their own increasingly frustrated and angry subjects and citizens.
  • Few doubt Mr. Obama’s sincerity. Yet none of his initiatives has led to policy change anyone can detect, let alone believe in.
  • The Mahmoud Abbas administration retains power by grace of the Israeli occupation authorities and the United States, which prefer it to the government empowered by the Palestinian people at the polls. Mr. Abbas’s constitutional term of office has long since expired. He presides over a parliament whose most influential members are locked up in Israeli jails. It is not clear for whom he, his faction, or his administration can now speak.
  • American policies in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the prospects for peace in the Holy Land
  • Yet, as I will argue,  the United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance. It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace. It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace. It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress. Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace. There are alternatives to tomorrow’s diplomatic peace pageant on the Potomac. And, as Norway has shown, there is a role for powers other than America in crafting peace in the Holy Land.
  • Yet, as I will argue,   the United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance. It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace. It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace. It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress. Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace. There are alternatives to tomorrow’s diplomatic peace pageant on the Potomac. And, as Norway has shown, there is a role for powers other than America in crafting peace in the Holy Land.
  • Yet, as I will argue,   the United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance. It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace. It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace. It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress. Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace. There are alternatives to tomorrow’s diplomatic peace pageant on the Potomac. And, as Norway has shown, there is a role for powers other than America in crafting peace in the Holy Land
  • The resentment of mostly Muslim Arabs at their governing elites’ failure to meet these standards generates sympathy for terrorism directed not just at Israel but at both the United States and Arab governments associated with it
  • Arab governments willing to overlook American contributions to Muslim suffering
  • suspending its efforts to make peace in the Holy Land
  • invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq
  • It has caused a growing majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to see the United States as a menace to their faith, their way of life, their homelands, and their personal security
  • But I do think it worthwhile briefly to examine some of the changes in the situation that ensure that many policies that once helped us to get by in the Middle East will no longer do this
  • “peace process,”
  • The perpetual processing of peace without the requirement to produce it has been especially appreciated by Israeli leaders
  • Palestinian leaders with legitimacy problems have also had reason to collaborate in the search for a “peace process
  • Israeli backing these leaders need to retain their status in the occupied territories. It ensures that they have media access and high-level visiting rights in Washington. Meanwhile, for American leaders, engagement in some sort of Middle East “peace process” has been essential to credibility in the Arab and Islamic worlds, as well as with the ever-generous American Jewish community.
  • “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.”
  • It has no interest in trading land it covets for a peace that might thwart further territorial expansion
  • Obviously, the party that won the democratically expressed mandate of the Palestinian people to represent them — Hamas — is not there
  • “peace process” is just another in a long series of public entertainments for the American electorate and also a lack of confidence in the authenticity of the Palestinian delegation
  • the Arab peace initiative of 2002. This offered normalization of relations with the Jewish state, should Israel make peace with the Palestinians.
  • But asking them even implicitly to agree that the forcible eviction of Palestinian Arabs was a morally appropriate means to this end is both a nonstarter and seriously off-putting
  • has been met with incredulity
  • Only a peace process that is protected from Israel’s ability to manipulate American politics can succeed.
  • establishing internationally recognized borders for Israel, securing freedom for the Palestinians, and ending the stimulus to terrorism in the region and beyond it that strife in the Holy Land entails
  • First, get behind the Arab peace initiative.
  • Second, help create a Palestinian partner for peace
  • Third, reaffirm and enforce international law
  • American diplomacy on behalf of the Jewish state has silenced the collective voice of the international communit
  • When one side to a dispute is routinely exempted from principles, all exempt themselves, and the law of the jungle prevails
  • Fourth, set a deadline linked to an ultimatum
  • The two-state solution
  • That is why the question of whether there is a basis for expanded diplomatic cooperation between Europeans and Arabs is such a timely one
  • Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has made inter-faith dialogue and the promotion of religious tolerance a main focus of his domestic and international policy
  • President Obama’s inability to break this pattern must be an enormous personal disappointment to him. He came into office committed to crafting a new relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds. His first interview with the international media was with Arab satellite television. He reached out publicly and privately to Iran. He addressed the Turkish parliament with persuasive empathy. He traveled to a great center of Islamic learning in Cairo to deliver a remarkably eloquent message of conciliation to Muslims everywhere. He made it clear that he understood the centrality of injustices in the Holy Land to Muslim estrangement from the West. He promised a responsible withdrawal from Iraq and a judicious recrafting of strategy in Afghanistan.  Few doubt Mr. Obama’s sincerity. Yet none of his initiatives has led to policy change anyone can detect, let alone believe in.
Julianne Greco

Khamenei Speech Offers No Compromises - WSJ.com - 0 views

  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his second address to the nation since the turmoil over the June presidential election, set a tough tone for where the country is heading: No compromises with opponents outside or inside Iran
  • The comments set the stage for the possible arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
  • The document, and a public Russian rebuff of the idea of new sanctions against Iran, left President Barack Obama with few options before a deadline he set this month for diplomatic progress.
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  • In Iran, Mr. Khamenei's speech marked the anniversary of the death of Shiite Islam's founder Imam Ali. Mr. Khamenei drew comparisons between his rule and that of the imam. He recounted how Imam Ali had practiced patience with opponents until it was clear they weren't changing course, and then took out his sword to deliver them a final blow.
  •  
    In just a few weeks (or sooner) Iran will be forced to take action. It will be interesting to see how Obama will later react to this increasinly volatile situation...and will Ahmadinejad heed warning? How Iran proceeds from here will very well set the stage for conduct in U.S.-Iran relations during the Obama presidency.
  •  
    What better way to win over public opinion then to evoke religious bases and compare his rule to that of the Imam? It's ironic that Khamenei describes a level of historical tolerance, then completely goes the other direction and asserts that violence must be the conclusion if they don't get their way.
Ed Webb

Barack Obama's great test | open Democracy News Analysis - 0 views

  • the limitations of Obama's style and approach
  • His administration, he promised, would do its best to revive the world's economy, to address climate change, to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and to bring peace to Israel and Palestine. These are all admirable aspirations, and it is perhaps unreasonable to hope that the president might have admitted that the United States has been largely responsible for each of these problems.
  • Barack Obama is increasingly coming to look like Lyndon B Johnson, a brilliantly gifted politician whose ambition to build a "great society" was sacrificed because of the war in Vietnam. The heart of the Obama approach is now clear. He genuinely wants to move away from the frozen folly of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century, but he is not willing to take the political risk of acknowledging America's responsibility for the problems he wants to solve.
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  • Still less does anyone in Washington seem to understand that "Gitmo" itself was always an absurd colonial anomaly of the kind Americans used to denounce. Nor does there seem any will to undo the creation of an even more scandalous, though militarily more useful, colony in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
  • Washington's instinct is to treat China as a potential partner in the domination of the world
  • Because Europe is divided into many different states, and no doubt because many American politicians and policy-makers find European attitudes annoying, American policy does not recognise that collectively Europe has a bigger economy than the United States and far bigger than China (even if China's growth has been spectacular).
  • No one questions Barack Obama's personal goodwill, still less his political intelligence. But on the basis of his first nine months in office, his commitment to a serious reassessment of the limitations of American power - let alone to an acknowledgment of the implications of the country's relative decline - is not yet clear.
Ed Webb

Jacob Heilbrunn: Obama's Shrewd Iran Policy - 0 views

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    The good news is that President Obama has a brilliant strategy for dealing with Iran. The bad news is that brilliance may not be enough.
Michael Fisher

How Israelis See Obama (Page 2) | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • So in effect, Obama's popularity or lack thereof has little to do with the prospects for peace. The real problem is, simply, Israelis are happy with the situation as it stands and have little motivation to change it. Only by a small majority of 4 percentage points do Israelis believe that they cannot shoulder the economic and security burdens of the status quo, and even fewer think that U.S. support for Israel will decline if there is no peace (by 49 to 47 percent, within the margin of error).
  • Given the daunting challenge of moving a number of the 500,000 Israeli settlers living beyond the green line, the country's original 1949 borders, (or leaving some under a future Palestinian sovereignty), one begins to understand why the current cost-benefit calculation weighs in favor of maintaining the status quo.
  • only 36 percent of Israelis consider their own prime minister "honest and trustworthy
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  • Israelis care most about regular bread-and-butter issues.
  • Israelis see few reasons not to continue the occupation and are perhaps being offered the wrong kinds of incentives for choosing a different path. The behavior of Israel's leadership is consistent with a short-term political calculation that Israelis aren't willing to disrupt the present scenario.
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    How Israelis see Obama reveals more about the Israeli people than it does President Obama (Read...).
Ed Webb

Syria Comment » Archives » "Engagement is Still On," by Joshua Landis - 0 views

  • Washington’s desire to improve relations with Damascus has not come to an end, despite the claims of several Kuwaiti and Lebanese papers, which have been insisting that US engagement with Syria is over. Their false reports have been accompanied by a barrage of articles produced by Bush era diplomats proclaiming the failure of Obama’s engagement with Syria.
  • The real problem for Obama’s Mid East policy is that Netanyahu is refusing to pursue peace. The lynch pin of Obama’s Middle East policy is Arab-Israeli peace. Everything else on his agenda flows from his promise that he can deliver on a two state solution. Syria will end its support for militant groups that fight Israel if it gets back the Golan and a credible effort is made to provide a modicum of justice for Palestinians. Iran would lose much of its influence in the region as a result. Ahmedinejad’s anti-Israel rantings would lose their purchase. As it is now, almost every Arab is hoping that Iran will get the bomb – if only to counterbalance Israel’s overwhelming military superiority. It is this superiority that allows it to scoff at both Syria and the Palestinians – and, indeed, scoff at the US.
  • Netanyahu knows Obama will be paralyzed by congress. He is enjoying his power. One can only wonder whether the US president will have a better bargaining position with Israel once Iran has acquired a nuclear bomb?
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  • So long as Israel occupies the Golan Heights, Syria and Washington will remain adversaries, and engagement will be very difficult and limited. The question that hovers over Syria-US relations today is whether the Obama administration will turn to the Syrian peace track in the hopes of salvaging something of its Middle East policy. There seems to be no positive movement on the Palestinian peace track, so Obama may be forced to look north.
  • The seeming failure of America’s Palestine policy means that Damascus, while hoping for the best, will expect little. US diplomats are constantly reminding Syrian officials that it is not in their power to rescind sanctions. They invoke the strength of the pro-Israel lobby in congress as an excuse for their impotence. What is Syria to make of this? Naturally, Syrian officials are loath to do favors for Americans who claim to be able to do little in return.
Ed Webb

Just What The Middle East Needs -- $110 Billion More In Weapons | HuffPost - 1 views

  • It appears the Trump administration is counting on the country with the worst human rights record in the region to enforce peace and security in the Middle East.
  • Piled on top of this enormous arms lot are precision-guided munitions that President Obama would not sell the Saudis. That’s not because the Obama folks didn’t like selling weapons to the Saudis — Obama sold more weapons and gear to Saudi Arabia in eight years than all other previous administrations combined. No, Obama withheld precision-guided munitions because the Saudis were using U.S.-provided munitions to repeatedly target civilian and humanitarian sites in their bombing campaign inside Yemen, despite regular protests from the United States.
  • millions of Yemenis are being radicalized against the country they blame for the civilian deaths: the United States. By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more — not fewer — civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.
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  • The Saudis’ obsession with Iran, and the proxy wars (like Yemen) that flow from this obsession, mean that they have little bandwidth to go after extremist groups. Meanwhile, the Saudis continue to export a version of Islam called Wahhabism that is a crucial building block for the perversion of Islam parroted by groups like al Qaeda
  • we have to ask whether continuing to fuel the growing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the right way to bring peace to the Middle East. To the extent this conflict is going to continue, we are clearly on the Saudis’ side, but the inarguable effect of selling more capable weapons to the Saudis is the acceleration of weapons build-up in Iran
  • feeding the arms race between the two nations probably isn’t the best long-term strategy
  • What do we have to gain by going in so enthusiastically with the Sunnis against the Shia in their fight for power in the Middle East? This isn’t our fight, and history suggests the U.S. military meddling in the Middle East ends up great for U.S. military contractors, but pretty miserable for everyone else.
  • $110 billion could educate every single one of the 30 million African primary school age children who has no access to school today...for five years
Ed Webb

From SEALs to All-Out War: Why Rushing Into Yemen Is a Dangerous Idea | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • As is often the case with Trump’s comments on policy, they quickly become the focus of media attention, rather than what the administration is actually doing — or what the facts are on the ground.
  • two separate but overlapping conflicts
  • a counterterrorism fight waged by Yemeni government, with U.S. support, against AQAP, al Qaeda’s most virulent franchise
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  • The second, and more damaging conflict, is a civil war between the government of Yemen and the Houthi minority, which was expected to last a matter of weeks, and maybe months, but is now well into its third year. It began when Houthi militia fighters descended on the capital Sanaa in late 2014 and soon evicted the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close partner of the United States.
  • if new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to make an early diplomatic contribution, then there is a confounding but vital mission with his name on it: de-escalating a Yemen civil war that is damaging U.S. interests and should have stopped a long time ago
  • The civil war escalated dramatically in March 2015, with the intervention of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which understandably felt threatened by the turmoil on its border and by ties between the Houthis and Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran. The United States, which had long been urging Saudi Arabia to take greater responsibility for security challenges in its region, offered a range of support, including with intelligence, weapons sales, aerial refueling for Saudi planes, and various measures to help secure the Saudi border
  • According to the United Nations, 16,200 people have been killed in Yemen since the intervention, including 10,000 civilians. The humanitarian situation in what was already one of the world’s poorest countries, is now, after Syria, the most dire on the planet, with one in five Yemenis severely food insecure
  • The war has preoccupied key partners with an enemy that does not directly threaten the United States. Indiscriminate air strikes, conducted with American weapons and in the context of American assistance, have killed scores of non-combatants (such incidents eventually compelled the Obama administration to review and adjust our assistance to the coalition). And while Iran and the Houthis have historically maintained an arms-length relationship, the long conflict has brought them closer and led to the introduction of more advanced weapons, such as missiles capable of striking deep into Saudi territory or of threatening the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a critical channel for maritime traffic.
  • Saudi officials and their Emirati coalition partners have been signaling for months that they are eager to end the conflict, which they did not expect to last nearly this long
  • after years of U.N.-led negotiations that sought to sell a relatively one-sided peace to the Houthis (despite what was, at best, a stalemate on the ground), the Obama administration developed and bequeathed to its successors a more balanced roadmap to which all key parties (the Saudis, the Houthis, and the Yemeni government — as well as the United States, U.N., and U.K.) grudgingly agreed
  • the Houthis are infamously difficult to work with. When Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours with their representatives in Oman last November, he was forced to endure a lengthy airing of historical grievances before embarking on the topic at hand. They also have a long history of violating dozens of agreements, which every Saudi diplomat can recount, chapter and verse. Negotiating peace will also inevitably involve straining relationships with our key partners, who will need to be pushed in the right direction
  • Hadi, who all relevant players acknowledge cannot govern a reconciled Yemeni state, has consistently scuttled deals that would require him leave office. His Saudi patrons have proven either unwilling, or unable, to compel better behavior and are themselves too are quick to revert to unreasonable demands — a tendency that would be reinforced if the Trump administration signals it unconditionally has Riyadh’s back
  • the Emiratis, who maintain a heavy troop presence in southern Yemen but have, wisely, been more focused on AQAP (the first war) than the Houthis (second), have for many months been threatening to attack the Houthi-held port of Hudeidah, a provocative step that would almost certain set back any peacemaking efforts indefinitely
  • an expanded presence of U.S. forces — while Yemeni and Saudi governments are still at war with the Houthis — could bring U.S. troops into close quarters with Iran and its proxies, with all of the escalatory potential that entails
  • While the Houthis fired on a U.S. ship late last year, they have not repeated that mistake since the Obama administration retaliated by destroying radars located along the coast. If President Trump chooses to put U.S. forces into the middle of a civil war, it should explain a purpose and objective more concretely than simply “pushing back” on Iran. Moreover, it must do so with its eyes open to the risks those forces would be assuming and the reality that a limited special forces mission is unlikely to turn the tide on the ground
  • the longer the conflict with the Houthis continues, the more AQAP will continue to benefit from our, and our partners’, divided focus, as it strengthens its hold on ungoverned territory
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