Sunday, March 2, 2014

Obama to Israel – Time is Running Out. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

Obama to Israel – Time is Running Out. President Obama interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg View, March 2, 2014. Excerpts at The Atlantic.

Obama threatens Israel on the eve of Netanyahu visit. By William A. Jacobson. Legal Insurrection, March 2, 2014.

For Netanyahu, a bombshell battering by Obama. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, February 3, 2014.

The President’s Prophetic Threats to Israel. By John Podhoretz. Commentary, March 2, 2014.

On Israel, Obama Has No Clue What He’s Talking About. By David Harsanyi. The Federalist, March 3, 2014.

Obama’s Scary Mideast Interview. By Elliott Abrams. The Weekly Standard, March 3, 2014.

Surprise: Obama Kills the Peace Process. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, March 3, 2014.

Obama puts Israel on notice. By Hussein Ibish. NOW Lebanon, March 4, 2014.

Obama’s Settlement Construction Lie. By Evelyn Gordon. Commentary, March 4, 2014.


In an extraordinary—and I don’t use the word in a complimentary way—interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, President Obama follows his secretary of state in warning Israel and its leader that a failure to “make peace” now with the Palestinians will have terrible consequences. Israel is “more isolated internationally,” and will become more so; there will be more Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as time goes on, not fewer, so Israel had better move now; and not to move now is to create the conditions for a “permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank. . . . there comes a point when you cannot manage this anymore.”
The wild logical contradictions in his remarks expose the degree to which the American approach in the Kerry peace talks is to haunt Israel with the dire nightmare it will face should the talks fail; Palestinian rejectionism plays almost no role in the Obaman calculus here.
The Palestinians, in Obama’s view, do not actually need to make changes; astonishingly, he says, they’re ready for peace. “The Palestinians,” the president says, overlooking every piece of polling data we have about the opinions of the Palestinians, “would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.”
Ah. So that 2011 poll that says 60 percent of the Palestinians reject a two-state solution is bunk—a poll whose findings have not been  contradicted since. If Palestinians refuse to accept a two-state solution, they do not “recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.” Rather, they are still engaging in a pseudo-national fantasy about Israel’s disappearance or destruction. And they are so eager for peace and coexistence with Israel that they remain the only significant Muslim population that still has a favorable view of suicide bombings, according to a Pew survey.
“The voices for peace within the Palestinian community will be stronger with a framework agreement,” the president says. But why would the “voices for peace” need to be “stronger” if they reflect the actual views of the Palestinian people? They should be more than strong enough on their own now. Indeed, if they are so strong, we would not be hearing repeated denunciations of the “framework” process from Palestinian negotiators.
The president’s fantasies about the Palestinians also  involve Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. “I think,” he says, “nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue.” Nobody would dispute? In 2008, offered a peace deal by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that involved Abbas actually drawing a new West Bank map giving the Palestinians something between 92 and 95 percent of the territory, Abbas basically fled the table and didn’t return. Granted, he didn’t do what Yasser Arafat did after a similar deal at Camp David in 2000 and begin the second intifada, but this hardly demonstrates a commitment to a diplomatic effort—except for one that fails.
So the Palestinians, in the president’s view, are all in. It’s really quite wonderful, in fact: “You’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns — for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake.”
Yes, the PA is such a partner for peace that even with negotiations going on, it celebrates acts of violence against Israel on a constant basis, as this report details.
Not to mention the little wrinkle that Abbas doesn’t speak in any way for half of the Palestinian polity, the half living under the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. Ah, but that’s no problem, in the president’s view. “There would still be huge questions about what happens in Gaza,” the president says, “but I actually think Hamas would be greatly damaged by the prospect of real peace.” Really! Unlike Abbas, who has not faced Palestinian voters since 2004, Hamas actually won a free election in the past decade and its unquestioned commitment to Israel’s destruction is clearly shared by the people who live under its aegis. They do not want peace.
All of this is folderol, anyway, because the president clearly thinks peace is solely Israel’s to make, and basically, Binyamin Netanyahu should listen to Obama’s mother and rip off the band-aid: “One of the things my mom always used to tell me and I didn’t always observe, but as I get older I agree with — is if there’s something you know you have to do, even if it’s difficult or unpleasant, you might as well just go ahead and do it, because waiting isn’t going to help. When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”
Now that’s some chutzpah right there, because of course the president is invoking the words of Hillel, the ancient Jewish sage, as a rhetorical tool against the Israeli prime minister. Of course, Obama leaves out the key words of Hillel’s famed plaint, which are: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” Israel must be for itself, because there is almost no country left in the world that will be for it; while the president says the American commitment to Israel is “rock-solid,” clearly he does not believe it will necessarily be so in the future . . . nor should it be.
Says the president of Netanyahu, “if he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.” That’s ridiculous. A peace deal with the Palestinians is of course the right thing to do for Israel. But if there can be no peace deal, or can be no peace deal that does not pose a severe danger to Israel’s survival, then it is not the right thing to do.
The only “plausible” thing to do is to challenge the Palestinians to cure themselves of their psychotic political culture and become a rational actor with whom a true peace can be made. Is that a tragedy? It sure is. Sometimes there are tragedies, and they must be faced realistically, not wished away.
One thing that cannot be wished away is the president’s insistence on placing the burdens on Israel. This is something else his apologists can no longer wish away.

Putin Smashes Washington’s Cocoon. By Walter Russell Mead.

Putin Smashes Washington’s Cocoon. By Walter Russell Mead and Staff. The American Interest, March 1, 2014.

Red Lines in Crimea. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, February 28, 2014.

Mead and Staff:

A Politico report calls it “a crisis that no one anticipated.” The Daily Beast, reporting on Friday’s US intelligence assessment that “Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine,” quotes a Senate aide claiming that “no one really saw this kind of thing coming.”
Op-eds from all over the legacy press this week helped explained why. Through the rose tinted lenses of a media community deeply convinced that President Obama and his dovish team are the masters of foreign relations, nothing poor Putin did could possibly derail the stately progress of our genius president. There were, we were told, lots of reasons not to worry about Ukraine. War is too costly for Russia’s weak economy. Trade would suffer, the ruble would take a hit. The 2008 war with Georgia is a bad historical comparison, as Ukraine’s territory, population and military are much larger. Invasion would harm Russia’s international standing. Putin doesn’t want to spoil his upcoming G8 summit, or his good press from Sochi. Putin would rather let the new government in Kiev humiliate itself with incompetence than give it an enemy to rally against. Crimea’s Tartars and other anti-Russian ethnic minorities wouldn’t stand for it. Headlines like “Why Russia Won’t Invade Ukraine,” “No, Russia Will Not Intervene in Ukraine,” and “5 Reasons for Everyone to Calm Down About Crimea” weren’t hard to find in our most eminent publications.
Nobody, including us, is infallible about the future. Giving the public your best thoughts about where things are headed is all a poor pundit (or government analyst) can do. But this massive intellectual breakdown has a lot to do with a common American mindset that is especially built into our intellectual and chattering classes. Well educated, successful and reasonably liberal minded Americans find it very hard to believe that other people actually see the world in different ways. They can see that Vladimir Putin is not a stupid man and that many of his Russian officials are sophisticated and seasoned observers of the world scene. American experts and academics assume that smart people everywhere must want the same things and reach the same conclusions about the way the world works.
How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.
We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.
Too much of the Washington policy establishment looks around the world and sees only reflections of its own enlightened self. That’s natural and perhaps inevitable to some degree. The people who rise through the competitive bureaucracies of American academic, media and think tank life tend to be those who’ve most thoroughly absorbed and internalized the set of beliefs and behavioral norms that those institutions embody and respect. On the whole, those beliefs and norms have a lot going for them. It would not be an improvement if America’s elite institutions started to look more like their counterparts in Russia or Zimbabwe.
But while those ideas and beliefs help people rise through the machinery of the American power system, they can get in the way when it comes to understanding the motives and calculations of people like President Putin. The best of the journalists, think tankers and officials will profit from the Crimean policy fiasco and will never again be as smug or as blind as so much of Washington was last week. The mediocre majority will go on as before.
The big question of course, is what President Obama will take away from this experience. Has he lost confidence in the self-described (and self-deceived) “realists” who led him down the primrose path with their empty happy talk and their beguiling but treacherous illusions? Has he rethought his conviction that geopolitics and strategy are relics of a barbarous past with no further relevance in our own happy day? Is he tired of being humiliated on the international stage? Is it dawning on him that he has actual enemies rather than difficult partners out there, and that they wish him ill and seek to harm him? (Again, we are not talking about the GOP in Congress.)
Let’s hope so. There are almost three years left in this presidential term, and they could be very long ones if President Obama chooses to stick with the ideas and approaches he’s been using so far.