“The Limits Of “Israeli Exceptionalism”: The Perilous Path The Current Israeli Government Is Pursuing
This incident from the 2008 campaign, relayed by Matthew Duss at TNR, tells you a lot about trends in U.S. thinking about Israel in the Netanyahu era:
[R]epresentatives of the Obama, McCain, and Clinton teams appeared at a Jewish community forum. Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, spoke for Obama, explaining that he wanted to see a “plurality of views” on Israel. Clinton adviser Ann Lewis responded that the United States should simply support Israeli policy, regardless of its content. “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel,” she said.
It was a pretty strange statement (is there any other country in the world to whose electorate anyone would similarly suggest outsourcing U.S. policy decisions?), but it does accurately describe the operating theory upon which much of conservative pro-Israel advocacy in Washington is based.
But it’s an increasingly rare point of view outside the conservative opinion bubble. After her service in the Obama administration, it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton would not again allow herself to be represented as simply ratifying whatever policy is yielded by Israeli elections (presumably the only way one is permitted to deduce “decisions of the Israeli people,” who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s policies towards Palestinians and indeed towards the rest of the world).
It’s against this backdrop of a growing tendency among Democrats to reject the idea of “Israeli exceptionalism” as the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy that you can understand the perilous path the current Israeli government is pursuing in demanding the same–or perhaps greater– unconditional American support as in the past. This posture is not only liberating Democrats to assert national interests as superior to those of any foreign country in formulating U.S. foreign policy, but as I think we will see in 2016, leading public sentiment in the same direction.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Wasgington Monthly, June 17, 2015
With the hunger for war again rising in Republican political circles, I guess this report from the Wall Street Journal‘s Patrick O’Connor was inevitable. Yes, Dick Cheney is back:
The former vice president is looking to make a splash on the national stage with a new book to be published in September and a group he and his daughter Liz launched to advance their views.
The effort is sure to play directly into the 2016 presidential debate, in which national-security policy is already a point of difference between the Republican candidates, many of whom are looking to turn the page on George W. Bush’s administration.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, Mr. Cheney previewed some of his likely positions:
* He characterized one leading GOP contender, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, as an isolationist. “He knows I think of him as an isolationist, and it offends him deeply,” Mr. Cheney said. “But it’s true.”
* An early critic of nuclear talks with Iran, he thinks the U.S. should be prepared to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. He also favors additional arms shipments to U.S. allies in Eastern Europe and further military exercises in Poland to send a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
* And he scoffed at the debate that tripped up Mr. Bush’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, over whether or not he would have invaded Iraq with the virtue of hindsight. (Mr. Bush, after some back and forth, eventually said he wouldn’t). Mr. Cheney instead said Republicans should scrutinize the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq under President Barack Obama.
Since most of the Republican candidates for president are already embracing most of these positions, why, one might ask, do they need Dick Cheney, one of the most unpopular public figures of the twenty-first century, to articulate them? Well, there’s one small but influential subsection of public opinion where Cheney has never lost his cache:
Mr. Cheney already exerts quiet influence over his party, making semiregular trips to the Capitol to address House Republicans and advising some GOP White House hopefuls. He wouldn’t discuss those conversations. Two of his top foreign-policy aides have signed on with Jeb Bush. And he is headlining donor events all over the country for the Republican National Committee.
“The party is very fortunate to have an active and engaged Dick Cheney for this upcoming political cycle,” said Reince Priebus, the party’s chairman, noting the number of candidates and elected officials who turn to the former vice president for advice. “He’s a top fundraising draw, in high demand.”
I suppose this is an example of what the church calls the “glamor of evil” in the Easter baptismal renewal vows.
At times, Mr. Cheney seems to relish his villainous public persona. Outside the rodeo arena, he took a moment to show off the latest feature on his truck, a Darth Vader trailer-hitch cover, a nod to his alter-ego from the Bush days. “I’m rather proud of that,” he said, flashing his signature uneven grin.
It’s reasonably clear Cheney wants to encourage Republicans to complete their devolution on the Middle East and come to defend Bush administration policies–including torture, black sites, the nightmare of the Iraq occupation and the original decision to invade that country–in their entirety. I guess Lindsey Graham’s presidential candidacy isn’t viable enough to ensure that happens.
Speaking of which, maybe the Republican presidential field could consummate its isolation of Rand Paul and its determination to make 2016 a “national security election” via an agreement that whoever wins the nomination would put Cheney on the ticket, to seek a return to his old job of running U.S. foreign policy from the shadows. I’m sure a lot of Democrats would love to promote the idea.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 1, 2015
“An Iraqi Army That Can’t Or Won’t Fight”: Why Fight For The Iraqis If They Are Not Going To Fight For Themselves?
If Iraqis won’t fight for their nation’s survival, why on earth should we?
This is the question posed by the fall of Ramadi, which revealed the emptiness at the core of U.S. policy. President Obama’s critics are missing the point: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many troops he sends back to Iraq or whether their footwear happens to touch the ground. The simple truth is that if Iraqis will not join together to fight for a united and peaceful country, there will be continuing conflict and chaos that potentially threaten American interests.
We should be debating how best to contain and minimize the threat. Further escalating the U.S. military role, I would argue, will almost surely lead to a quagmire that makes us no more secure. If the choice is go big or go home, we should pick the latter.
The Islamic State was supposed to be reeling from U.S.-led airstrikes. Yet the group was able to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and is now consolidating control over that strategically important city. Once Islamic State fighters are fully dug in, it will be hard to pry them out.
Among the images from Sunday’s fighting, what stood out was video footage of Iraqi soldiers on the move — speeding not toward the battle but in the opposite direction. It didn’t look like any kind of tactical retreat. It looked like pedal-to-the-metal flight.
These were widely described as members of the Iraqi army’s “elite” units.
In their haste, Iraqi forces left behind U.S.-supplied tanks, artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers and Humvees. Most of the equipment is believed to be in working order, and all of it now belongs to the Islamic State. The same thing has happened when other government positions have been overrun; in effect, we have helped to arm the enemy.
Obama pledged to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. His strategy is to use U.S. air power to keep the jihadists at bay, while U.S. advisers provide the Iraqi military with the training it needs to recapture the territory the Islamic State holds.
But this is a triumph of hope over experience. The United States spent the better part of a decade training the Iraqi armed forces, and witness the result: an army that can’t or won’t fight. The government in Baghdad, dominated by the Shiite majority, balks at giving Sunni tribal leaders the weapons necessary to resist the Islamic State. Kurdish regional forces, which are motivated and capable, have their own part of the country to defend.
If the Islamic State is to be driven out of Ramadi, the job will be done not by the regular army but by powerful Shiite militia units that are armed, trained and in some cases led by Iran. The day may soon come when an Iranian general, orchestrating an advance into the city, calls in a U.S. airstrike for support.
The logical result of Obama’s policy — which amounts to a kind of warfare-lite — is mission creep and gradual escalation. Send in a few more troops. Allow them to go on patrols with the Iraqis. Let them lead by example. Send in a few more. You might recognize this road; it can lead to another Vietnam.
What are the alternatives? One would be to resurrect Colin Powell’s doctrine of overwhelming force: Send in enough troops to drive the Islamic State out of Iraq once and for all. We conquered and occupied the country once, we could do it again.
But the Islamic State would still hold substantial territory in Syria — and thus present basically the same threat as now. If our aim is really to “destroy” the group, as Obama says, then we would have to wade into the Syrian civil war. Could we end up fighting arm-in-arm with dictator Bashar al-Assad, as we now fight alongside his friends the Iranians? Or, since Obama’s policy is that Assad must go, would we have to occupy that country, too, and take on another project of nation-building? This path leads from bad to worse and has no apparent end.
The other choice is to pull back. This strikes me as the worst course of action — except for all the rest.
The unfortunate fact is that U.S. policymakers want an intact, pluralistic, democratic Iraq more than many Iraqis do. Until this changes, our policy goal has to be modest: Contain the Islamic State from afar and target the group’s leadership, perhaps with drone attacks.
Or we can keep chasing mirages and hoping for miracles.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 21, 2015
“Boehner Still Can’t Get His Act Together On ISIS”: A House Speaker Who Keeps Expecting Everyone Else To Work Except Him
It’s been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It’s been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It’s been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It’s been three months since the White House, at Congress’ insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.
But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans – who support the administration’s military offensive – still aren’t prepared to do any actual work.
President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
“The president’s request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible,” Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and “start over.”
It’s important to understand the nuances of Boehner’s whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn’t even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers’ work for them – Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.
Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn’t like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don’t like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.
As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn’t want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it’d be up to Obama to come up with a third.
This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the war, in effect, started nine months ago. Congress has a constitutional obligation to authorize the mission, but instead we have a House Speaker who keeps expecting everyone else to work except him.
I can appreciate the fact that this is not simply a matter of laziness. There are, as we’ve discussed before, significant policy disagreements – between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate – that are tough to resolve. Some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough. Working out a resolution would be hard.
But here’s the fact that Boehner and his cohorts don’t seem to understand: it’s supposed to be hard. When lawmakers authorize the nation to launch a military offensive abroad, it’s difficult by design.
The Speaker, however, hopes to pass the buck, suggesting somehow it’s the White House’s job to write bills for Congress, and if Congress doesn’t like the president’s version, then Capitol Hill will just ignore the issue altogether. In effect, Boehner’s argument is that an ongoing war can just continue – indefinitely – no matter the cost or scope of the mission, and federal lawmakers are prepared to do literally no work whatsoever.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today, “We may go down in history as the Congress that largely gave up its role in the war-making process.”
The irony, of course, is extraordinary. For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive. And yet, here we are, with the president pushing Congress to authorize a war that’s already started, and a Speaker content to sit on his hands.
Making matters worse, the more Obama tries to find a peaceful solution with Iran, the more Congress tries to intervene to derail the administration’s efforts. The more Obama wages war against ISIS, the less work Congress is inclined to do.
“It matters a great deal to the institution of the Congress what we do because future presidents are going to look back at this and they’re going to say ‘We can make war without a congressional vote,’” Schiff added. “It will have deep impact on our institutional role and our ability to serve as a meaningful check and balance on presidents’ ability to make war.”
Finally, evidence of Boehner’s legacy comes into focus.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015
There are many reasons George W. Bush was unpopular when he left office. A big one was the Great Recession, which crested and crashed down on the world in his last few months in office. Then there was Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 New Orleans debacle that helped kneecap Bush’s second term in office not long after it started. But the most enduring stain on Bush’s tenure is the Iraq War.
Not only is Iraq still a mess — worse, America’s mess — but the effects of toppling Saddam Hussein are being felt in everything from Iran’s expanding influence in the region to Islamic State’s rise. So it’s odd that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making his case for following his older brother and father into the White House, would double-down on the Iraq War.
Even knowing that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, Jeb Bush told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on Sunday, he would have still invaded Iraq in 2003, “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
First, let’s dispatch with that pathetic blame-sharing nonsense. Hillary Clinton — if, for some reason, voters had elected her right after her husband — would not have invaded Iraq, and neither would President Al Gore. Both probably would have invaded Afghanistan, because, after all, that country’s Taliban government was sheltering the terrorist group that had just murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, destroyed a cluster of skyscrapers, and damaged the Pentagon.
But Iraq was a textbook war of choice. There was some faulty intelligence, but it was being pushed and exaggerated by a Bush White House that wanted to invade Iraq already. I don’t think that’s even in dispute anymore.
Nobody named Clinton has ever invaded Iraq — in fact, since Somalia’s “Black Hawk Down” incident, Democrats bomb countries; they generally don’t send in ground troops. Two presidents named Bush have invaded Iraq. Voters remember that.
And just how unpopular is the Iraq War now? Last summer, some major news organizations asked voters.
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll from June 2014, 71 percent of respondents said the Iraq war “wasn’t worth it,” including 44 percent of Republicans. A CBS News/New York Times poll from the same month similarly found that 75 percent of respondents said the war was not worth the costs, including 63 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents. Another June 2014 poll, from Quinnipiac, was a bit more favorable, with only 61 percent saying that “going to war with Iraq” was “the wrong thing.” In all those polls, the Iraq War disapproval numbers have continued to inch upwards.
The biggest obstacle to a President Jeb Bush was always going to be his last name — a polite way of saying his brother. He knows that. He even jokes about it.
But because of family loyalty or pride, or the advisers he has hired from his brother’s administration, or core convictions, Jeb Bush isn’t willing to throw his brother under the bus. From a tactical standpoint, it must be helpful having a father and brother who have collectively won three presidential elections, but acknowledging in public that George W. Bush is your most influential adviser on Middle East affairs? That’s something different.
Jeb Bush seems determined to win this or lose this as a card-carrying member of the Bush dynasty.
Is that a deal-breaker? Well, people who care about foreign policy often lament that voters don’t. But that’s not going to help John Ellis Bush. Because while most voters probably do vote on pocketbook issues, Republican voters are fired up about foreign policy, especially the sort of engaged partisans who vote in primaries.
And they’re revved up about foreign policy because that’s what Republican lawmakers and politicians and pundits have been attacking President Obama on since the economy improved enough, ObamaCare started showing positive dividends, and Osama bin Laden’s death under Obama’s command became a part of American history.
“Attacking President Obama’s record on Israel and Iran is now one of the biggest applause lines for presidential candidates,” note Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty at National Journal, in a write-up on a poll about how Republicans believe 2016 will be a foreign policy election.
Jeb Bush is going to have to step up his game if he wants to ride the GOP’s foreign policy wave. His big coming out party on the subject wasn’t promising — even with his A-list of Bush-linked advisers, he “delivered a nervous, uncertain speech on national security,” reported Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich at The Daily Beast, “full of errors and confusion.”
That’s something Jeb Bush can fix. After all, none of the Republican governors, former governors, senators, former CEOs, or celebrated pediatric neurosurgeons running against him have much experience with war or international diplomacy or other key elements of foreign policy, either.
But running as a Bush on foreign policy in 2016 is folly. Even if the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party pushes him through the primaries, it’s poison in a general election. Jeb Bush has a tough choice to make: Does he want to try to resuscitate his brother’s foreign policy reputation, or does he want a shot at the White House?
By: Peter Weber, The Week, May 11, 2015