Two recent reports provide perspective about the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship—not in the sense of revealing anything that should be new to anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to the subject, but rather in making naked some facets of it that are commonly clothed in euphemism and denial. In one, The Economist cites “normally reliable diplomatic sources” in reporting that before the UN vote last month that criticized Israel's continued construction of settlements in occupied territory—and on which the Obama administration cast its first Security Council veto—President Obama encouraged British Prime Minister David Cameron and others to take a tough line toward Israel on the issue. Obama reportedly expressed frustration over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's behavior regarding the settlements but said he had “too many domestic fires to extinguish” to risk an altercation with Israel. In the other, a committee of the Israeli Knesset has launched a critical inquiry into the American pro-peace, pro-Israel advocacy group J Street. The Likud chairman of the committee said he intends to call for a vote to declare J Street to be pro-Palestinian and not pro-Israeli.
One of the strangest arguments in favor of America’s involvement in the humanitarian mission in Libya—aside from the general incoherence of the mission —is that, "...at least it was endorsed by the Arab League."
But look at what countries make up the Arab League, among others: Libya (although it was suspended just recently), Sudan (where thousands of innocent civilians were killed), Somalia (a lawless pirate mecca), Yemen (a medieval backwater), and a smattering of other countries led by sclerotic regimes. It is one thing for the United States to seek the support of the Arab League when a mission is not premised on the protection of human rights; the Gulf War of 1990-91 comes to mind. But when it comes to the case of intervention in Libya and the stated premise of the mission—to stop the killing of innocent civilians—it should go without saying that most, if not all, of the Arab League’s members have no legitimate claim to moral authority. The Arab League means little to the Arabs living under those individual regimes. Arab League support might mean a lot to us, but it means a whole lot less to the Arabs we’re trying to sway.
Administration officials cleared up Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments on Tuesday that members of Libyan Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s regime had been reaching out to the United States and other countries, potentially to play games or potentially to seek an exit strategy. Officials said that Qaddafi’s brother-in-law was calling the State Department everyday and that Libya’s foreign minister had also made a few calls. No one seems to know what the purpose of the calls really is, but intelligence officials say that Qaddafi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Today, Clinton said that it is time Libya’s leader made the “right decision," that is, “not only institute a real, comprehensive cease-fire but withdraw from the cities and end the military actions and prepare for a transition that does not include” Qaddafi. The fastest way for Qaddafi to end the violence, she said, is “to actually serve the Libyan people by leaving.” She commented that “significant progress” has been made in establishing a no-fly zone over the country, carried out under a UN mandate to protect civilians on the ground. Clinton’s comments further cloud the allies’ mission statement.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with the head of the Egyptian army today and lavished praise on his military for protecting protesters during the demonstrations that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. Gates also called on Egyptian officials to allow new political groups to have a voice in government.
Israeli lawmakers have been busy this week. Among other things, they engaged in lengthy lucubrations on Wednesday about whether or not J Street, the Jewish organization based in Washington, DC that seeks to promote peace talks with the Palestinians, should, as the Washington Post puts it, be declared "anti-Israel." The meeting is yet another in a series of self-destructive Israeli acts. Instead of addressing, or even acknowledging, the fact that J Street apparently has over 100,000 members in the American Jewish community, the lawmakers are trying to delegitimize it.
The brouhaha centers on the fact that J Street was critical of the Obama administration for vetoing a United Nations resolution denouncing Israeli settlements. But since when are the settlements beyond criticism? By trying to tar anyone who has a policy disagreement as treasonous, these lawmakers are doing themselves--and Israel--no favors. They seem to want a code of omerta to prevail rather than genuine public debate--debate that, more often than not, flourishes inside Israel itself.
What they do want is for organizations abroad to serve as uncritical emissaries for the Israeli government. But an organization that exists purely at the behest of the Israeli government would have no crediblity. Agree or disagree with J Street. But it seems hard to argue that it hasn't injected some vigor into the discussion in America over Israeli policy. Yet Kadima member Otniel Schneller announced that "J Street is not a Zionist organization. It cannot be pro-Israel."
In trying to figure out just what we have gotten ourselves into by applying military force to Libya, one set of consequences that has received relatively little comment so far concerns international terrorism. The problem has multiple dimensions.
The dimension that is hardest to gauge but ultimately may have the broadest impact is the effect on perceptions and resentments of many people far beyond Libya who might be recruited into terrorism, or at least might support or sympathize with it. Any use of Western and especially U.S. military force in a Muslim country runs the risk of energizing Islamist terrorism. Such use bolsters the extremist narrative of a Judeo-Christian West that is out to kill Muslims, dominate their lands, and plunder their resources. This cost was a significant consequence of the Iraq War. As the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has dragged out, that war also has increasingly been seen as a motivator stimulating Islamist terrorists—as reflected in the statements of those who have been captured, including ones captured in the United States. To the extent that the story coming out of the operation in Libya becomes focused less on Qaddafi and more on the immediate drama of Western forces, military action, and inevitable civilian casualties, this operation as well will play into the extremist narrative.
Lots of people have mordantly poked fun at former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remark during the health care debate that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” (At least Congress was involved on that issue.)
Did the Obama administration have to get into Libya’s civil war so that we could find out what the U.S. military would do there? There’s been an awful lot of frustration in Congress and among policy analysts about the war, and a lot of the frustration has resulted from the utter opacity and contradictions emanating from the Obama administration.
Earlier this week, Ben Friedman made a valiant effort to bring some order to the chaos, judging that the U.S.-led coalition was using defensive tactics in pursuit of offensive goals, and concluded this way:
I would have preferred for the United States to stay out of this civil war but for intelligence support and advice to the rebels. If we can disengage and leave the bombing to the Europeans, I hope we do so. But whoever is taking the lead should acknowledge that they are sponsoring rebels aiming to overthrow Qadaffi and adopt a policy that does more than defend them. The allies should give the rebels close air support and maybe strategic bombing. If that means abusing the words of the U.N. resolution, so be it. If it costs the support of the Arab League and whoever else supports air strikes based on the pretense that they are purely humanitarian, it's probably a trade worth making…
Defense Secretary Robert Gates touched down in Egypt today for talks with military leaders and officials, including Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tahtawi. Gates will try not to step on any toes when it comes to Egypt’s internal post-Mubarak moves. As one Pentagon official said, “We are not here to tell them what to do.” Libya will also be high on the agenda as airstrikes continue there.
Earlier this week, Gates was in Russia, just in time for Russian President Dmitri Mevedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to get into a tiff over the Libyan strikes. In an appearance with Gates, Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov called on “all belligerent parties,” including the U.S., “to stop the violence.” Gates said a cease-fire isn’t going to happen. He also had some strong critiques of Qaddafi’s recent statements about high civilian casualties, calling them “outright lies.” He chided people for taking the Libyan leader's claims “at face value,” saying “It is perfectly evident that the vast majority, if not nearly all, civilian casualties have been inflicted by Qaddafi.”
In a flagrant instance of political correctness, President Obama's Justice Department is going to bat for Safoorah Khan, an Illinois middle school math teacher who abandoned her students to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Berkeley, Ill. school board twice denied her requests three weeks of unpaid leave. The board made the right call.
The Five Pillars of Islam enjoin a Muslim to travel at least once in their lifetime to Mecca. Khan was obeying no religious dictate to travel to Mecca immediately. But Khan resigned and made the hajj. Then she filed an anti-discrimination suit in November 2008 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Justice Department, as the Washington Post prominently reports today, filed a lawsuit on her behalf, charging that the school district violated her civil rights.
This is nonsense. Actually, that isn't quite right. It's dangerous nonsense. So far, America has avoided going down the path of countries such as France or England, which are grappling with radical Islam. Obama is undermining that by filing specious lawsuits that can only encourage religious divisiveness in America.
A teacher who leaves her charges bereft at the end of the school year is not fit to teach. She could have made the pilgrimage at another point--say, when she had a sabbatical. Three days would have been fine. Three weeks at the end of term? No way.
That was fast. Word is that Sen. Rand Paul already sees himself as presidential timber. He may have only been in office for a few months, but already Paul is pondering a run. In South Carolina he declared "the only decision I've made is I won't run against my father."
His father, of course, is Rep. Ron Paul, the longtime legislator and foe of the Federal Reserve. In this, it truly is like father, like son. Both share the same libertarian outlook on the world. Ron has always been a charismatic figure on the right, someone who sticks to his rhetorical guns, regardless of the fallout. He loathes the New Deal, the welfare state, the military-industrial complex, and pretty much everything else associated with the modern American state.
His son has already outstripped him, at least in terms of political success. It would be a logical step for him to run for the presidency. But this soon? Maybe he's angling for a spot on the ticket as vice-president.
Here's an idea: a Paul-Paul ticket. He could run as the junior member to his father. Voters would know that they were, in essence, getting the very same article should Rand ever have to succeed his father in office. There would be no mystery about the vice-president. Nor would it be unconstitutional, no small point for men who are sticklers, to put it mildly, about the Constitution. As TPM points out, the two men are from different states.