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Israeli Reactions: Good Speech, Now What?

Nahum Barnea, a widely read columnist for Yediot Aharonot, who accompanied Mr. Netanyahu to Washington, wrote that while the prime minister spoke well, the visit’s results were worrying. He listed them as “a president whom the Israelis suspect and the Arab world scorns for having yielded to the dictate of the Israelis; negotiations that had a slim chance of being renewed before the visit and now have no chance at all; a Palestinian Authority and an Arab League that are more determined than in the past to reach a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on a state within the 1967 borders, which is a resolution that has quite dangerous consequences for Israel.”  – Ethan Bronner, NYT

Israeli reaction to Netanyahu’s visit in taking an introspective turn.  Most Israelis were hoping for some agreement to move the peace process forward.  As Nahum Barnea indicates in the quote above, the looming UN vote on Palestinian statehood is of high concern to many Israelis and their PM came back empty-handed on ways to address that and other issues.

What are the risks here?  Everyone knows the US will vote against statehood in the General Assembly and use its veto on the Security Council in support of Israel.  However, if the Palestinians are able to garner European support for a UN declaration of statehood, the consequences could be startling.  A decisive UN majority, including major European states, in support of Palestinian statehood would set the process in motion.  Palestinian statehood would change the character of the peace negotiations.  Instead of  between occupied and occupier, talks would be between two (nominally) independent states.  The UN charter and international law forbid one state to indefinitely occupy another, at least without authorization from the UN.  Therefore, Israel would face legal judgments, lawsuits and, perhaps most threatening of all, a new, more powerful divestment movement pattered after the popular 1980s international movement that forced governments, pension funds and other big investors to divest their holdings in South Africa under Apartheid and that was successful in weakening the Apartheid regime.

How can UN recognition of a Palestinian state be avoided?  That was a key strategic issue President Obama raised in his speeches and with Mr. Netanyahu.  Only the re-start of serious negotiations between Israel and the PLO (Abbas) on the two-state solution would persuade the Palestinians against petitioning the UN.  In meetings I attended with President Abbas this month, he clearly indicate his preference for a negotiated settlement and willingness to call off the September vote if the Israelis seriously wanted to negotiate.

Here is a sampling of other Israeli reaction:

A Kadima statement said: “After a difficult week, which peaked in a superfluous clash
with the US that highlighted the terrible relationship that Netanyahu has brought about in
this relationship in the last two years, it is time to begin taking action. After two years of
impasse and rejectionism, Israel is at one of its lowest diplomatic points in its history, its
vital problems are exposed on the table and it is in a worrying process of becoming
isolated” (“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik Bender et al., Maariv, p12).Speaking to Channel 2, MK Shaul Mofaz responded to Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress: “Netanyahu didn’t say anything new,” he said. “He has
no plan, he is leading us to a conflict with the world in September and if the people of
Israel have a choice between conflict and elections, I’m confident that they will choose
elections” (“Shaul Mofaz: ‘Netanyahu didn’t say anything new’,” Gil Hoffman,
Jerusalem Post Online).
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said: “Netanyahu’s speech was no more than an election ad
and an attempt to create a false impression of willingness to enter negotiations.
Netanyahu’s policy will lead us to international isolation and to a bi-national state”
(“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik Bender et al., Maariv, p12).

MK Zehava Galon of Meretz said: “In Congress they applauded, in the Middle East we’ll
cry. Even Netanyahu knows that there is no peace without a compromise on the 1967
borders and dividing Jerusalem” (“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik Bender et
al., Maariv, p12).Minister Limor Livnat said: “In a brilliant speech, the prime minister presented the basic
principles for true peace while maintaining security for Israel and Israel’s continued
existence alongside a Palestinian state” (“Anger on the Right, And on the Left,” Arik
Bender et al., Maariv, p12)  (Likud)

For the first time, a right wing prime minister declares that he intends to give up parts of
Judea and Samaria,” said MK Tzippi Hotovely. “The prime minister should realize that
this is not acceptable to the absolute majority of the Likud faction” (“Anger on the Right,
And on the Left,” Arik Bender et al., Maariv, p12).  (Likud)

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Preemptive Humanitarian War?

The least I expected from the Obama Administration was some circumspection around joining other UN members in activating a Libyan no-fly zone.  Hillary Clinton and the State Department talk about possible ‘genocide’ and ‘massacres’ of civilians by Qaddafi’s troops seemed exaggerated.  You don’t have to doubt that Qaddafi troops have killed hundreds, even thousands, of people in the opposition  to doubt Dennis Ross’s claim that the no-fly zone may have  averted the deaths of “100,000″ civilians in Eastern Libya.

Ross Douthat wrote an important piece last month in the New York Times challenging inflated figures.  He first quotes White House Middle East ‘strategist’ Dennis Ross:

“We were looking at ‘Srebrenica on steroids’ —the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred, and everyone would blame us for it,” Ross explained, according to one attendee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the administration is trying to keep its consultations private …

Douthat continues:

This is an audacious claim, to put it mildly. By way of comparison, in the Kosovo conflict, so often cited as a precedent for our Libyan intervention, the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign may have claimed 10,000 lives, while the widely-respected Iraq Body Count projects suggests that between 100,000 and 110,000 civilians have been killed in the eight years since we invaded in Iraq. Ross is suggesting, in other words, that upon taking Benghazi, Qaddafi’s forces would slaughtered ten times as many people as Slobodan Milosevic’s thugs did in Kosovo, and that they would have killed as many people in the space of a single campaign as have died in Iraqacross eight years of invasion, insurgency, and sectarian civil war.

Yes, and it follows in Bush Administration footsteps to manipulate popular opinion with wild exaggeration.  Bush played on fear.  Clinton & Co. plays on guilt.  The United Nations picked up the theme by announcing an investigating into whether Qaddafi committed ‘crimes against humanity’ in the opening weeks of his counter-offensive against Libyan opponents.

Last week, President Obama joined PM David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy in an op-ed piece published in La Figaro, a conservative French newspaper and The Independent in London.  In it, they justified sticking with the bombing campaign until Qaddafi stepped down into a negotiated exile.  They reasoned that as long as Qaddafi is in power, the attacks – and potential kills in the tens of thousands – were still a threat to the Libyan population.  At this time, there is little doubt that left on his own, Qaddafi would retaliate by any means possible against the weak rebel forces.  He would kill or imprison anyone  he considered an opposition leader.  In that sense, they continue,  the continuation of bombing could be justified by the current US resolution 1973.  Aside from its expedient interpretation of the War Powers Act, the Administration made sweeping conclusions about the ground situation.   In the end, the Obama Administration will have to answer questions similar to the ones posed to the Bush Administration.  Was preventive action needed?  What were the facts on the ground?  If pre-emption is justified for humanitarian purposes, why not for preventing war?  Who is to decided?

Many opponents of the war in Iraq supported the no-fly zone on grounds it was justified by a possible imminent massacre.  But instituting the no-fly zone was still a pre-emtive military attack.  So if for possible ‘humanitarian purposes’, why not to avoid possible MWD?  It’s not so much ‘mission creep’ that concerns me.  It’s ‘justification creep’.

If the facts we did know, that Qaddafi’s military dropped bomb in civilian areas and that most of the ‘rebels’ were civilians who took up weapons in self-defense weren’t enough to justify a no-fly zone, why would what we didn’t know – if a massacre would materialize -  tip the balance?

The Obama Administration, like Bush before it, failed to let the facts speak for themselves.  Fear and guilt have always been conditions and even sources of war.  They should not be.



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Libyan Opposition Begins Oil Exports

In a wrap=up of regional news, Juan Cole of Informed Comment report:

he pro-democracy government in Benghazi are sending off $100 mn. worth of petroleum from the eastern city of Tobruk, with a Liberian tanker expected to arrive Tuesday. If the struggle is protracted, control of petroleum resources will be key to the reform government’s victory over Qaddafi loyalists. If they can regain control of Ra’s Lanuf and therefore of the Buraiqa basin, they would have the bulk of oil resources on their side of the countr

Cole assesses yeaterday’s UN Coalition attack on a Qauddafi tank column nearing oil-rich Brega was strategic in wearing down Qaddafi loyalists:

The significance of the strike on the convoy is manifold. Qaddafi doesn’t have infinite amounts of heavy military equipment, and every tank or armored vehicle he loses degrades his ability to control a country that for the most part doesn’t want him. When urban crowds and rebel forces have faced Qaddafi loyalists and both have just had light arms, the rebels have typically prevailed. Another significance of the strike is that it may well discourage soldiers loyal to Qaddafi from trying to attack the rebels, and may encourage them to defect to the Benghazi government. So far the NATO strikes on Qaddafi convoys have been intermittent, and so many commanders may have thought that the risks are bearable. But if the strikes become more consistent they will likely take a psychological toll.

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Libya and Yemen: Closing in on Obama’s World View

Although the Arab League  called for the no-fly zone and it is a joint operation among Western and Arab countries, judged against the history of American intervention, the one in Libya seems fairly conventional.  George H.W. Bush built a more substantial united front against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.   What’s different about this action is the swiftness of execution and the fact that an Arab opposition directly called for help in a conflict with its own government.

Instead of dragging on the debate over whether intervention was either just or smart, it would be far more useful to anticipate how the situation in Libya will play out (the end game), what comes after it and how it affects the Arab uprisings in general.

Most troubling right now is the shadow that intervention casts over the nationalist underpinnings of the Arab uprisings of 2011.  The goal of millions of youth taking to the streets throughout the Arab world was reclaiming the promise of independence and self-determination won by their parents and grandparents after WW2, a promise long stifled by the royal and autocratic regimes that gained power in the 50s and 60s.

Obama played the initial thrust of the uprising  with finesse, declaring US support for ‘democratic reforms’ while staying away from support or repudiation of players themselves.  Far from indecision, Obama showed firm respect for the sovereignty of Tunisia and Egypt, recognizing the uprisings as internal political strife that the US did not, should not and would not have a hand in.    To many anti-interventionists, the Libyan military action is a betrayal of the already battered principles of sovereignty that wrecked US foreign policy in the ten years before.  My contention is that whether you supported the Libyan intervention or not, how this particular intervention unfolds and resolves itself will reflect either the respect or further trampling of sovereignty into the future.

Today, we hear about the Administration shifting positions and backing the ouster of President  Saleh in Yemen.  Yesterday, news spread that two of Qaddafi’s sons have put forth a plan for his ouster and moving towards a constitutional system.

I think the Administration’s shifting position on Yemen is hugely significant.  The US is clearly backing the protesters, many of whom have been gunned down by government forces even though Saleh,  even though he was a partner in the fight against Al-Queda in Arabia, one of the terrorist group’s most lethal branches.  This may be the biggest test in answering where this is going.

Will the West try to co-opt or influence the Libyan opposition and by extention, undermine the prevailing principle of self-determination claimed by the protest movement as a whole and within each country?  What happens if the “UN coalition” wants a negotiated settlement to the strife, as Quaddafi’s son proposed last week, and the internal opposition rejects it?

After all, by sticking to their demands and demanding their presidents step down, the Tunisians and Egyptians achieved what they set out to do.  As a consequence they set in motion a challenge to the foundation of their countries’ political systems.  In the past, many movements may have compromised for something less.  But  each attempt by the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes to pacify the the crowds or violently suppress them only gained the opposition tens of thousands of new recruits.

It jarred us when media scenes of of jubilant crowds in the overflowing central square of Tripoli abruptly switched to the explosions and clouds of smoke created by precision American strikes at Libyan defenses.  We thrilled to the former and were sickened by a sense deja vu with the latter.

The instinct of intervention is to control.  And statements by Sarkozy and Cameron at the beginning of the no-fly zone dripped with paternalism and ‘mighty mouse’ exaggeration.  But with the President Obama’s switch of position on Yemen, the narrative of the Arab spring continues to be set by the opposition.  Realistically, there is no way the US would sit this regional upheaval out.  The Libyan opposition and the Yemeni’s who demanded that America cut lose Saleh or be condemned for hypocrisy seem to understand the global picture better than many US activists.

I’m a skeptic of intervention.  But we may be witnessing a real shift in American foreign policy, one working with – instead of trying to control – indigenous struggles towards representative government.  This doesn’t mean that the Western powers won’t try to manipulate the politics of the region.  Leopards don’t change spots.  It means recognizing the strength of these movements themselves and the sophistication of many of its youthful leaders who are themselves pushing the US into new directions while ousting America’s  old ‘allies’ one by one.  Self-determination takes different shapes at different times.

Wish I knew Arabic for ‘it ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.’


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Why I’m Bugged by Obama

Even if you support US intervention in Libya on ‘humanitarian grounds” , the fact is that the West has – boots or no boots on the ground – jumped in to  influence the direction and results of the Libyan protests  The Obama Administration handled Tunisia and Egypt with respect for them as sovereign nations and a clear understanding that US involvement was not needed and not wanted.  The neocons keep calling on Obama to be more aggressive in support of Iran’s Green Movement and Egypt’s democracy movement.  That reveals the underlying principle of neoconservatism, that America is allowed to jump to the head of the line whenever it wants because it is the only consistent force for good in the world.  But that is not the principle which governs the international community in the 20th and 21st centuries: respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations and national self-determination.  And although the US may have been in contact with the Egyptian Army the whole time, we stayed away from any action that could flip the scales thereby throwing the internal Egyptian politics off track.

I think the US is up to its neck in Libya.  I don’t think Obama would have joined with the others strictly on the demands of France and Britain and pleas of the opposition.  They most likely knew the plans of those who flew to asylum in Britain today, abandoning his long-term partner, Qaddafi.  After all, the Administration knew the lack of training and leadership of the civilian wannabe warriors who have taken up arms.  It has refused to call this a civil war but defines the Libyan conflict as dictator against his civilian population.  I agree with their definition.


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Woodward’s Reported Obama Administraton ‘Disputes’ Opposite of George W. Bush

Whereas the ‘disputes’ within the George W. Bush administration revealed a President unwilling to challenge the military, the ‘disputes’ in the Obama Administration, as these first reviewers of the book observe, show a President firmly in charge of developing strategy, appropriately skeptical, dissatisfied with the advice of his military commanders (who balked on an exit strategy) who creatively blocked their attempts at ‘mission creep’ with a 6-page memo spelling out what they can and can’t do. Even his own Afghan adviser doesn’t think we can ‘win’ this war but keeps his job.

In contrast, George W. Bush was passive, deferential to the military, cut off from other viewpoints, and refused to re-evaluate strategy with the timing and in a way that could have saved thousands of American and Iraqi lives.

Woodward points out a whole lot of other ‘disputes’ and rivalries, most of which are strictly personality. Like Axelrod was the only Obama adviser who questioned how he could trust Clinton? Like nobody has charged Hollbrooke with an obnoxious ego before? Or the real hurtful attack: Petraeus calling Axlerod nothing but a ‘spin doctor’, which of course, I Axelrod’s job.

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Did Obama Set Petraeus Up in Afghanistan?

Did Obama set Petraeus up?  One of the more interesting points Bob Woodward reports in his new book, “Obama’s Wars” is Obama’s insistence that the military focus on an exit strategy, not wining the war.  Obama actually set up a kind of ‘contract’ with the military on what it can and can’t do with the 30,000 new troops, telling them he does not want them to come back in 2011 saying ‘everything’s going fine’ but asking for more.

Instead, he brought Petraeus back to set the stage for withdrawal beginning in 2011, a plan he opposed.  So, Petraeus’s rep is on the line to get things in order.  If he can’t get things together to meet the 2011 deadline, Petraeus’s reputation will surely suffer, no matter how much he disagreed with Obama.  After all, the civilians are in charge!

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South Florida Congresswoman Wants Palestinians Removed from US

In a brazen and foolish move when the Obama Administration is working overtime to get the Palestinians and Israel to resume direct peace negotiations, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (FL-18th), is circulating a letter to Sec. Clinton calling on her to close the Palestinian diplomatic mission in the US. (The mission was established post- Oslo and continued under Democratic and Republican presidents.)  Throwing a second grenade at the President’s attempts to bring the warring parties together, Ros-Lehtinen includes a call for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Even Stephen Colbert wouldn’t attempt to satirize the ‘Israel-right or wrong’ lobby in such a harsh, if silly,  light.

The lingering images of a bi-partisan foreign policy in the US went up in smoke after the 2003 Iraq invasion.   But Ros-Lehtinen takes a big risk on behalf of her constituencies.  She certainly will draw support from her Republican allies, but ‘the letter’ has the potential to split Democrats and therefore, expose a fault line in Congressional support for Israel between those who want to give the President’s strategy a chance and those who want to torpedo it from the get-go.

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