Saturday, March 20, 2010

'Rip-Shit' Is Back In Use

Almost everyone who’s anyone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or in Foggy Bottom will volunteer the news: Obama is “rip shit” with the Israelis. So how long has he been rip shit? I believe that he has been sitting in waiting for the opportunity to have others send the message: “The president has blown his top.” When talks fail, which they inevitably will, he will present his own plan. Beware.

Marty Peretz

and see this and also this.


Anonymous said...

I understand that people will differ on how much animus Obama personally holds toward the Jewish State. I've thought since the election that it's considerable, with his unassuming public slams against "Likudniks" beingthe tell. All those classes at Columbia and hallway chats with Ayers and dinnertime conversations with Said - they might have had minimal influence on a politician who already had a basic sense of the Middle East. But that's where, just on a very grounded day-to-day level, Obama *learned about* Israel. That's why he reacted to the E. J'lem announcement with such pique. It confirmed everything he always believed - wrongly - about Israel and the Israeli right.

Other people think he might have just been trying to influence Israeli domestic politics in some subtle way. Fair enough.

But what I don't understand is why that distinction makes a tactical difference. If we all agree that Obama's foreign policy is controlled by experts who believe that degrading the US/Israeli special relationship would be a net gain for US influence - which, by the by, is why trusting in them to recognize the "noted lack of benefit" is question-begging - then we have *no tactical disagreement*.. The administration's overreach should be used to highlight Obama's *de facto* hostility toward Israel. It's important that supporters recognize and mobilize against that hostility now, before it becomes pointed. Perhaps more importantly, this furor provides an opportunity to discredit Obama's disingenuous NJDC-style American Jewish allies, thereby providing American Jews with a genuine but stark choice between center-right groups like AIPAC and anti-Zionist groups like JStreet/IPF. *So let's do that, *yeah?

PS - fwiw I don't think that this blowup was a WH gambit to prevent Israel from attacking Iran - i.e. "given that we used a manufactured crisis to almost detonate the US/Israel alliance, just think what we'll do if you ever take real action." (1) I don't think these tools are that sophisticated, no matter what they tell themselves about themselves. (2) I think they're already using the Patraeus libel for that.

PPS - also fwiw I agree that the 2012 timeline is bogus. No American President stands by while Israel is suffocated by the UN during an election year. I don't even believe he does it during the 2011 fund raising season. That's why I think the PA will make its move in summer 2010, especially if they believe that Obama won't win in 2012 (which is what polls will be saying during the long hot post-HCR summer). A potential caveat is that they might not believe that Dayton's militia is ready to take on Hamas without IDF help, and they don't want their knees shot out. But given the recent call for Fatah/Hamas unity by Dahlan - *by* *Dahlan* - I'm not confident.

Anonymous said...

You write:

But what I don't understand is why that distinction makes a tactical difference. If we all agree that Obama's foreign policy is controlled by experts who believe that degrading the US/Israeli special relationship would be a net gain for US influence - which, by the by, is why trusting in them to recognize the "noted lack of benefit" is question-begging

I don't agree with that, unless we define it as being by a relatively small amount which makes no material difference--in other words, just words.

I firmly believe that if the announcement had not been made while Biden was there (or perhaps say during the next few weeks) that indirect talks would begin and the administration would be quite happy.

I think that any idea that the PA is going to declare unilateral independence in the next few months is absurd.

But I'm not going to make any further remarks on these issues as events will show what is going to happen.

Except to say this: To assume that this administration is going to be hostile no matter what and that it cannot be handled by internal forces and by Israel is a terrible mistake and one what no Israeli government can--or will--make. The fact is that things were under a reasonable degree of control and would have remained so if not for this error.

What they want is not to destroy Israel or to destroy the bilateral relationship but to look good as if they are getting something done and avoid trouble. That is why they are not going to seek confrontations in future. Note Obama's January interview in which he acknowledged that he wasn't going to get anything done on this issue.

The goal is --note Clinton's BBC interview--just get talks going and claim victory, then turn to other issues.

As Iran moves forward on nuclear weapons, as Arab states refuse cooperation on this and other matters (partly due to the administration's lack of credibility), as the Palestinians prove intransigent, as Hamas keeps causing trouble, as Syria gives nothing at all to Washington, as Turkey proves a bigger problem, as Russia and China smash hope for sanctions, the U.S.-Israel issue will become less salient.

We can just wait and see.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt real hostility in the State Department toward Israel. At the same time, Hillary Clinton is not hostile personally. Vice-President Biden, whatever his faults, is not hostile. The current assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, unlike many of his predecessors, is not hostile, as are many others I could name. In the Defense Department, the number of those friendly to Israel vastly outnumbers those who are hostile. The secretary of defense is not hostile to Israel.

Who is the number-one problem? NSC advisor Jones, though not everyone on the NSC staff is hostile. There is also the nastiness of Axelrod and Emanuel, but are they hostile toward Israel or just totally arrogant guys whose main goal is to make Obama look good?
Yes, the problem nowadays comes largely from the White House while in the past it has come from the State Department. But what is the nature of the problem?

From October 2009 to March 2010 things were going well until disrupted by this Biden/apartments flap. Already we see moves to quiet things down. What does the administration want: a big conflict with Israel? destruction of the bilateral relationship? A Palestinian state right now no matter what the cost?

No, they want there to be negotiations so they can say what a great job they are doing. That's what they thought they had until this mess came along. They were not looking for an excuse. They would have vastly preferred this problem never arose. After all, it is making them look like fools (though they are making things worse). They don't want more problems with Congress; they don't want more failures.

Please, it is necessary to know what one is talking about on such matters and newspaper articles alone are not sufficient.

My view is not "optimistic" or "pessimistic." It is up to us to deal with the cards we have and make the best of them. The Israeli government did a brilliant job of managing this problem between February 2009 and March 2010. Now we have to get things back on track. And we will.

Finally, the big problem we face is NOT bilateral relations but with U.S. policies toward the region of being nice to the radicals and losing credibility with the moderates. We are about to see the total failure of their sanctions policy. They are facing failure after failure--except probably for the health bill--between now and November, followed by a big defeat in the elections. They are frantic. And now this humiliation over Israel-Palestinian negotiations makes things even worse.

This is the context of events.

Anonymous said...

A dustup with Israel is generally a political loser for anyone in DC, no matter what their politics. But it is not clear that this one was a loser for Obama, and there's a reasonably possible scenario in which it will be a good idea in 2012 for Obama to ratchet up the heat on Israel.

The reason is this: anything with Israel dominates the foreign policy news. As a result, opening up an issue with Israel is a reliable way to distract from another foreign policy failure. I think when Obama compares the fallout from this past weeks contretemps with Israel from the possible fallout of negative reporting on Gates' visit to Saudi Arabia, I think there' s good chance that Obama feels he came out ahead.

A different president might have chosen a different distraction: one in which he attacks an enemy of the US rather than a friend. But Obama's pattern so far has been to attack Israel rather than pick a fight with enemies, both because Obama ideologically doesn't share the common ideas of who constitutes friends and enemies, and also because Israel reliably caves in partially, allowing Obama to proclaim more of a victory than he would otherwise be able to show, and at the same time, Israel reliably fails to give in 100%, allowing Obama to assign blame.

So let’s say 2012 rolls around, and Iran tests a nuclear weapon. It’s quite plausible that Obama-Axelrod-Jones-etc. will decide that the best way to play the political disaster is pick a fight with Israel. Certainly a fight with Israel about Palestinian statehood is a better headline than nuclear Iran.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Obama's focusing on settlements because he thinks it's a political winner in the US. I think he's doing it because he believes it's a wedge issue with what he believes is a center-left Israeli electorate. He's wrong but that's not the point.

Nonetheless I'm still confused about why this matters tactically. You wrote that we need "counterpressures and clever strategies" to keep anti-Israel partisans with West Wing ties in check. Obviously agreed. I also agree with you more specifically about Jones being one of the central forces in institutionalized WH anti-Israel sentiment (I was actually originally going to use the phrase "Jones/Pentagon" in the previous email about anti-Israel factions).

But if that's the case then why shouldn't this fiasco be used to discredit groups like the NJDC, which staked their reputation on a pro-Israel WH? The public impression is that they were wrong and that this WH is inclined to disproportionately attack the Jewish State? It seems... wasteful... to forgo that on account of nuanced process-level hunches.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, anyone who backed Obama claiming he was a friend of Israel is a fair target. The difference--and it is a huge one--is about the stance taken toward the administration by Israel's government and Jewish groups. Blogers and writers should fire away pointing out the administration's mistakes, silliness and double-standards. I certainly do so.

I also wanted to encourage people not to be too gloomy. This administration's hostile aspects can be managed and handled. Withering criticism and ridicule is one way to do so.
They have to understand that bashing Israel is going to cost them big time. Because even if this administration doesn't know how to affect the behavior of hostile forces by showing them the high cost of their behavior we know better.

Anonymous said...

All that said, I agree it's unlikely to play out this way. Obama is a cautious campaigner, as he showed in 2008. There's no reason for him to lead with his chin. Better to postpone all showdowns with Israel until after the elections.

I should also add that it's unnecessary on the issue of 2012 statehood: in 2012, Fayyad asks for Western recognition of the state of Palestine declared in 2012. Most European states recognize. The US announces it needs to "examine" the issue. Obama can wait until after the elections to recognize. If Fayyad wants to push the issue, in November 2012, Palestine can ask the UN for admission. It can easily win the vote without the US, and it will be embarrassing for the US to vote no.

Anonymous said...

Fayyad won't push the issue and he won't get US support. As I said you can make up anything you want. If people wish a long list can be given to explain why Fayyad wouldn't do it, starting with the fact that Fayyad is a zero who has no power whatsoever. Power rests with the Fatah barons who aren't mouthing off about this. They have to face the point that such a declaration would signal an all-out Hamas takeover bid, that Israel wouldn't defend them, that Israel would just hold on to everything within Zone C. The US doesn't want such a declaration also because it would just set off a big crisis, which is what it wants to avoid. The US would lose the leverage it has over the PA since it would have to worry about Iranian and Syrian influence. In other words, the Obama Administration doesn't want to set off a war crisis.