Archive for the ‘Diplomacy’ category

When nothing deters the clever brutal tyrant

September 5, 2017

When nothing deters the clever brutal tyrant, Washinton TimesWesley Pruden, September 4, 2017

(Words, words, I’m so sick of words.

Yep. But not in the same context — DM)

Kim Jong-Un

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If words were bullets, the crazy fat kid in Pyongyang would have been dead a long time ago, with his ample carcass on display now within a shrine of marble, plaster and tears. But under that goofy haircut there’s a brain that is not so crazy at all.

Words, words, words. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says North Korea is “begging for war,” which suggests that North Korea will get it if the begging continues. “Enough is enough. War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited.”

President Trump telephoned President Moon Jae-in in Seoul and they agreed that the fat kid’s explosion of a hydrogen bomb, underground or not, is not only a grave provocation, but “unprecedented,” too.

One after another, diplomats of America’s more or less reliable European allies, Britain, France and Italy, renewed demands for Kim Jong-un to behave himself, or else be sent to his room without supper. They demand that he halt his nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile scheme, or else — “else” being more of the sanctions that so far haven’t worked.

Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the U.N., proposes “new” sanctions by the U.N., implementing the sanctions already in place, and new and separate sanctions that also might not work by the European Union. Words, words, words.

Sebastiano Cardi, the Italian ambassador, repeats the chorus as if he were singing the grace notes in an aria from Verdi: “Pyongyang poses a clear threat challenging the global nonproliferation regime.” Mr. Cardi is chairman of the U.N. North Korean compliance committee, and observes that North Korea is the only country to have tested a nuclear device in the 21st century. Mr. Cardi imagines this might shame the fat kid, but Kim takes it as a compliment. He has the toys that the other kids can only envy.

Japan and South Korea have unique critical concerns, sharing a neighborhood with the villains in the North. “We cannot waste any more time,” says the Japanese ambassador, Koro Bessho. “We need North Korea to feel the pressure, that if they go down this road there will be consequences.”

All true, all to the point, but Kim can count it all as just more yada, yada, yada from those he torments. He has his neighbors, and the lord protector the United States, backed into a corner, and he has never had so much fun. He doesn’t mind being the international pariah. He knows the United States dare not put the American boot with its hobnails on his neck, where it could squash him like a bug on the sidewalk, for fear of inviting massive retaliation on Seoul, killing upwards of a million innocents.

Nikki Haley suggests spreading the pain of sanctions, punishing nations that do business with Pyongyang, whether in contraband food and oil, or textiles, the profitable North Korean export so far untouched by the sanctions in place. Tighter limits on exporting North Korean laborers to other nations have been suggested, too. Much of the money these laborers earn is confiscated by the Pyongyang government, and important to the North Korean economy.

Russia and China, always eager to be helpful, suggest bartering Kim’s nuclear threat against the American guarantee of South Korean national security. Eliminate both and every conflict would be resolved, every rough place made smooth and plain. Both Russia and China know this is unacceptable to both Washington and Seoul, and it’s not a solution offered in good faith, anyway.

Some diplomats, pundits and other speculators argue that since nothing else works, returning to “diplomacy,” that vague and formless cure-all that usually cures nothing and invites only more yada, yada, yada, is the way to go. “Jaw, jaw beats war, war,” as Mr. Churchill said, but jaw, jaw has its limits, too.

Doing nothing is what brought the United States — and its allies — to the present moment. Bill Clinton, distracted by staining Monica Lewinsky’s little blue dress and spending the rest of his attention on the hot pursuit of other passing skirts, imagined that sending groceries to North Korea would transform the Kim family into small-d democrats, eager to make the world a happy place. They took the groceries and continued work on splitting the atom. Barack Obama, itching to reduce America’s size in the world, was always ready to make another speech, but not much else.

No one disputes that the way forward is hard, but the threat of an out-of-control regime armed with nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them to faraway places, is real and the hour is late. The strategy of three presidential administrations seems fashioned by Mr. Micawber, the Dickens character who could never quite succeed at anything but was always sure that “something will turn up.” Something must, and soon.

• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.

Crossing the Rubicon

August 27, 2017

Crossing the Rubicon, Israel Hayom, Sarah N. Stern, August 27, 2017

On Wednesday, at a U.S. State Department press briefing, the Rubicon was finally crossed. Responding to a question regarding Israeli-Palestinian ‎peace, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We want to work toward a peace that both sides can agree to and both sides find ‎sustainable. … We believe that both parties should be able to find a workable solution that works for ‎both of them. We are not going to state what the outcome has to be. … It’s been many, many decades, ‎as you well know, that the parties have not been able to come to any kind of good agreement and ‎sustainable solution to this. So we leave it up to them to be able to work through that.”‎

This is the most constructive statement I have heard about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades. ‎For the last several years, the “experts” have been saying, “We all know what a solution to the ‎Palestinian-Israeli conflict looks like.”

If anyone ever took the time to listen to the parties themselves, and examine the cultural context in ‎which these words are spoken, they would immediately understand that the single most critical litmus ‎test for determining a negotiating partner’s real intentions is not what they say to visiting diplomats ‎and journalists in English, but what they say among themselves in their own language, and in particular, what they ‎teach their children. ‎

According to John Calvin (formerly “Jonaid Salameh,” before his conversion to Christianity), an EMET fellow who was born in Nablus, from the very earliest age, he ‎was taught there would not be two states, but one state called Palestine. An important slogan on everyone’s tongue in the disputed territories is “Lama neharherah,” meaning “When we free ‎it” — and “it” is all of Israel.

Calvin told me ‎that this belief is a certainty, that the average Palestinian feels it is destiny that eventually all of the ‎land will be free of Jews.‎

Surah 8, verse 38 of the Quran says, “Tell the unbelievers that if they desist from evil, their past shall be forgiven and if they revert to their past ways, then it is well known what happened with the people of the past.” According to Calvin, the interpretation is clear: There should ‎be conflict until all worship is only to Allah.

Part of this cultural context implies a different meaning of the word “peace.” Accepting the existence ‎of the other on their own terms is incompatible with true Islamic thought. Islam is a religion of ‎conquest.‎

Says Calvin, “The conception of peace, as we know it in the West, simply does not exist within Islam. ‎There can be a “hudna,” a temporary cessation of war, but only to regroup. Islam means total ‎submission, or surrender, and a permanent peace can only happen when the entire world surrenders ‎to Islamic rule. There is that sort of messianic concept of peace, but only after the entire world submits ‎to Islamic rule.”‎

Many individual Muslims, particularly in places like Indonesia, Pakistan and India, where Arabic is not the ‎native tongue, may not understand the Quran in a literal sense, and thus, may not hold these sort of ‎hegemonic beliefs.‎

Most Americans, including many so-called “experts” in the field, have no idea of the cultural context with which ‎they are dealing when they set out to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.‎

In former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s autobiography, “My Life,” he describes how profoundly disappointed he had been with then-PLO Chairman ‎Yasser Arafat after generous offers were made to the Palestinian leader by Prime ‎Minister Ehud Barak in the Camp David negotiations. Arafat did not respond in the affirmative or the ‎negative, but simply walked away from the table. His response came several months later, in the ‎form of the Second Intifada.

In a moving chapter, Clinton describes how, just as he was about to leave office, ‎Arafat called him up and told him he was a great man.‎

“Mr. Chairman,” Clinton replied, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.”

It obviously has been more important for Arafat, as well as his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who turned down an ‎even more generous offer from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to continue the struggle then to arrive at a permanent ‎peace.‎

For decades, too many Western leaders and diplomats have tried to impose a solution that ‎looks ideal when viewed through Western lenses. ‎

These statesmen, however, do not have to be there on the ground when the maximalist offers are ‎walked away from, and the inevitable violence ensues. ‎

Thank you, Heather Nauert, for taking us a bit closer to reality.‎

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel think tank and policy shop in Washington, D.C.‎

The Hysteria Over Russia Is Causing Serious Foreign Policy Problems

March 8, 2017

The Hysteria Over Russia Is Causing Serious Foreign Policy Problems, The Federalist, March 8, 2017

The fifth season of “The Americans,” the FX series about two Soviet spies posing as an American couple living near Washington DC in the 1980s, began airing this week. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus tweeted:

So excited to be watching The Americans, throwback to a simpler time when everyone considered Russia the enemy. Even the president.

It’s a funny line, but when it comes to U.S.-Russia relations, the 1980s weren’t really a simpler time, and returning to the costly threats and risks of the height of the Cold War are almost certainly not in the interests of the United States.

Yet that’s precisely what the current conspiracy theories swirling around the media-political complex could lead to. At the Center for National Interest on Tuesday, a panel of national security and Russia analysts sounded the alarm about the domestic political situation in the United States leading to a rapid deterioration of the already fragile relationship with Russia. They said the damage caused by hysteria surrounding Russia could harm potential U.S. interests in Syria, Ukraine, arms agreements, and the economy.

“There are consequences if we don’t get the relationship right,” said Paul Saunders, the executive director of CTNI. “Anyone who thinks we’re in a hostile relationship now, I would suggest there are a number of things that could be worse than they are now.”

Russian Hacking Leads to Russia Hysteria

The latest problems with Russia stem from U.S. intelligence agencies’ report, widely accepted by those who have seen the classified intelligence undergirding it, that state-involved hackers successfully spearfished John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, and obtained documents from the Democratic National Committee. The information they gleaned was released publicly via WikiLeaks. The information was deemed “boring,” “honest and boring,” and “a damp squib” by many in the media before the election. After the surprise victory of Trump, the release of information was deemed a national security threat of the highest order.

Various media and political interests (on both sides of the aisle) are pushing for more than the current investigations against Russia. Further, despite no evidence or allegations from named sources to substantiate claims of wrongdoing, various media outlets have been suggesting illegal ties of President Trump’s foreign policy with Russia. This after months of asserting that Russia “hacked” not just Democratic political operatives but the very election itself.

A general air of hysteria has enveloped Washington’s political and media class. CNN.com’s front page on Sunday and Monday featured a large red-washed image of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. In front of St. Basil’s were a photoshopped Mike Flynn, Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Vladimir Putin, and Ambassador Kislyak. Subtle!

The large type at the top of the page read “Russia mystery threatens to consume DC.” Other top headlines included:

  • White House can’t seem to shake off the Russian drama
  • Trump and Russia: What fallout could be
  • Trump’s hidden taxes fuel Russia rumors
  • President’s own actions reignite a Russian obsession
  • What the massive fallout could be politically and legally
  • CNN/ORC poll: Most back special prosecutor to investigate Russia
  • Russian glee over Trump’s election gives way to frustration
  • Is Trump’s new conspiracy theory a tactic to divert attention from Russia?

Media outlets are now writing up stories about Americans having ever met with Russians. One media outlet reported that while one Russian businessman and Donald Trump didn’t meet in October, their planes did. Yes, their planes did.

When then-Sen. Jeff Sessions was asked, in his confirmation hearing to be attorney general, about investigating claims of Russian attempts to compromise the Trump campaign, he noted that he was considered a Trump surrogate and he hadn’t had such meetings. When it turned out that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his capacity as a U.S. senator on the Armed Forces Committee, media outlets and Democratic politicians pounced, calling Kislyak a spy and demanding Sessions resign. Really.

We are in the midst of a full-blown Red Scare conspiracy theory. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the real problems caused by Russian hacking and releasing of real emails — sent by Democrats and media figures to each other — are being exacerbated for political reasons. But the consequences are not minor.

The Kislyak Slur

At the Center for the National Interest event, analysts and experts who worked for both Democrats and Republicans, and at think tanks and strategic analysis firms across the spectrum, were upset at the treatment Kislyak has been subjected to.

In a front-page story at CNN.com last week, reporters Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Eli Watkins alleged that Kislyak, who has been the ambassador to the United States since 2008, is “one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington.” The reporters sourced the claim to anonymous “current and former senior US government officials.”

The claim and presentation of Kislyak was at odds with the view of those who knew him and worked with him. CTNI’s president Dimitri Simes discussed the need for a full investigation of Russian meddling as well as the problems with a leak campaign that is undermining diplomacy itself. But he strongly objected to the smears of any and all diplomatic engagement with the Russian ambassador.

“Is this an indication that the U.S. will not be capable of conducting any meaningful diplomacy?” he asked regarding the attacks on Kislyak. “Any attempt to have a meaningful conversation with nuances, if leaked to the press next morning and leaked in a very selective way, it’s very difficult to conduct meaningful diplomacy.” He warned that further demonization of Kislyak could have significant fallout for U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft. Russia could decide to shut down the access Tefft has if the media and political opponents of Trump succeed in making diplomacy with the Russian ambassador impossible.

“The job of diplomats is to facilitate as many meetings as possible with a wide spectrum of the host country’s domestic political establishment on a wide range of issues,” wrote Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, in his essay “Damage Done: How Russia Hysteria Has Hurt U.S.-Russia Relations.” In fact, while the media frets about Trump officials talking to foreign officials, the bigger problem is not enough such meetings during the transition from the Obama presidency to the early days of the Trump presidency. Foreign ministers and bureaucrats in other countries have been complaining about not knowing who their new contacts are or will be, leading to confusion and delays in productive discussions.”

Michael Haltzel, a senior fellow at at the Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies and a former aide to Sen. Joe Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, harshly criticized Sessions for his handling of the question about contacts with Russia, but he agreed that attacks on Kislyak were unfortunate.

Wayne Merry, a veteran of the Foreign Service who was stationed in Moscow in 1993, said “
I have known Sergei Kislyak, I totally agree that what he has been exposed to is demonization. It’s total garbage. He’s a first-class professional. He’s being treated very shabbily.”

Even John Beyrle and the excitable Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassadors to Russia during Obama’s time in office, have warned that “America’s long-term interests are not served by attempting to suggest that contacts between American officials and Russian diplomats constitutes a treasonous or criminal act.”

I should mention that I also pushed back on the claim in a CNN appearance here. In any case, far from what the anonymous sources allegedly told CNN, Kislyak is widely regarded by those who have dealt with him as a top-notch diplomat who serves his country’s interests well. His post in Washington is expected to be his last, and his treatment in his remaining time here is considered an insult by both Americans and Russians. His rumored successor Anatoly Antonov will be “a force to be reckoned with,” as Matthew Rojansky, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, has put it. Rojansky has also defended Kislyak in the media, and says he has “no indication” that Kislyak is a spy.

To What Effect?

Just as the treatment of Kislyak could result in the U.S. ambassador to Russia’s diminished standing and ability to accomplish his goals in Moscow, the general hysteria surrounding Russia might harm the United State’s serious foreign policy goals.

Syria/ISIS

While part of problem with the U.S.’ Syria policy during the previous administration was an inability to articulate U.S. interest in the region, there is some consensus about destroying ISIS and enabling refugees from the Syrian conflict to return home. Both the United States and Europe have an interest in the successful return of refugees. If the United States therefore wants a say in Syria, it will have to work with Russians to facilitate those objectives. Russia has a strong military presence, has brokered some management in the region, and has a willingness to work with partners. That means the country has to keep lines of communication and room for negotiation open. It also needs to clarify its position on Iran, since Russia views Iran as a key partner.

“If Russia and the U.S. can habituate themselves to cooperation in Syria, that can rebuild habits of cooperation that can spill over into other areas where you could see beneficial results occur,” said Gvosdev. But, he added, “that window is not going to stay open on this forever.” If the United States doesn’t make meaningful moves soon, there may not be many more opportunities before Russia, Turkey, and Iran move forward without the United States.

Ukraine

Russian aggression in Ukraine has unsettled the region for several years, both in the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbass region. The United States and Europe imposed sanctions on Russia and Russians, but there is no resolution in sight. Russia is willing to keep fighting and has not buckled under the sanctions. Ukraine’s economy is suffering from lack of access to Russian markets. If the United States isn’t interested in brokering a peace, is it willing to arm Ukrainian forces and subsidize the country’s faltering economy? Is there an appetite on either the Left or Right for such intervention?

Not Going To War

The 1980s were fun, as Ruth Marcus noted above, but threat of nuclear annihilation was not so fun. Russia is not a superpower on par with the United States, but it is the only country that can take out the United States in short order. The United States needs to broker arms deals as well as encourage Russia not to get too cozy with China, forming alliances that could put U.S. interests at risk.

Economic Growth

Trade is one of the best ways to improve political relationships bilaterally. But not only is trade becoming quite difficult between Russia and the United States, on account of the sanctions, it was never a particularly deep relationship. Now there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding sanctions and how they will or won’t be enforced, a climate not conducive to business investment. Many people have argued that the “U.S. and Russia need to work on that to provide ballast and strengthen links in that relationship, creating incentives for a relationship that’s more of a practical relationship and less of a highly variable political relationship,” said Saunders, adding that the political climate is not very good for movement in that direction.

The bottom line is that the United States is embroiled in a hysterical reaction to Russian meddling in the Democratic Party that could spill over into far more serious consequences for the United States. Unless politicians and the media want the United States to have little to no leverage against ISIS or on behalf of Syrian refugees, want the United States to provide significant military and economic subsidies for Ukraine to fight Russia, are willing to risk war or proxy war with a nuclear power, and want to avoid peaceful means of improved relationships, they should think about whether pushing conspiracy theories for short-term domestic political gain is such a great idea.

The Real Middle East Story

September 25, 2016

The Real Middle East Story, The Amerian InterestWalter Russell Mead, September 23, 2016

The reason that Bibi has been more successful than Obama is that Bibi understands how the world works better than Obama does. Bibi believes that in the harsh world of international politics, power wisely used matters more than good intentions eloquently phrased.

Bibi’s successes will not and cannot make Israel’s problems and challenges go away. And finding a workable solution to the Palestinian question remains something that Israel cannot ignore on both practical and moral grounds. But Israel is in a stronger global position today than it was when Bibi took office; nobody can say that with a straight face about the nation that President Obama leads. When and if American liberals understand the causes both of Bibi’s successes and of Obama’s setbacks, then perhaps a new and smarter era of American foreign policy debate can begin.

************************

Peter Baker notices something important in his dispatch this morning: at this year’s UNGA, the Israel/Palestine issue is no longer the center of attention. From The New York Times:

They took the stage, one after the other, two aging actors in a long-running drama that has begun to lose its audience. As the Israeli and Palestinian leaders recited their lines in the grand hall of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, many in the orchestra seats recognized the script.

“Heinous crimes,” charged Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. “Historic catastrophe.”

“Fanaticism,” countered Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. “Inhumanity.”

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu have been at this for so long that between them they have addressed the world body 19 times, every year cajoling, lecturing, warning and guilt-tripping the international community into seeing their side of the bloody struggle between their two peoples. Their speeches are filled with grievance and bristling with resentment, as they summon the ghosts of history from hundreds and even thousands of years ago to make their case.

While each year finds some new twist, often nuanced, sometimes incendiary, the argument has been running long enough that the world has begun to move on. Where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once dominated the annual meeting of the United Nations, this year it has become a side show as Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas compete for attention against seemingly more urgent crises like the civil war in Syria and the threat from the Islamic State.

Baker (and presumably many of his readers) don’t go on to the next, obvious question: What does this tell us about the relative success or failure of the leaders involved? The piece presents both Netanyahu and Abbas as irrelevant. They used to command the world stage, but now nobody is interested in their interminable quarrel.

What the piece doesn’t say is that this situation is exactly what Israel wants, and is a terrible defeat for the Palestinians. Abbas is the one whose strategy depends on keeping the Palestinian issue front and center in world politics; Bibi wants the issue to fade quietly away. What we saw at the UN this week is that however much Abbas and the Palestinians’ many sympathizers might protest, events are moving in Bibi’s direction.

There is perhaps only one thing harder for the American mind to process than the fact that President Obama has been a terrible foreign policy president, and that is that Bibi Netanyahu is an extraordinarily successful Israeli Prime Minister. In Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, Israel’s diplomacy is moving from strength to strength. Virtually every Arab and Middle Eastern leader thinks that Bibi is smarter and stronger than President Obama, and as American prestige across the Middle East has waned under Obama, Israel’s prestige — even among people who hate it — has grown. Bibi’s reset with Russia, unlike Obama’s, actually worked. His pivot to Asia has been more successful than Obama’s. He has had far more success building bridges to Sunni Muslims than President Obama, and both Russia and Iran take Bibi and his red lines much more seriously than they take Obama’s expostulations and pious hopes.

The reason that Bibi has been more successful than Obama is that Bibi understands how the world works better than Obama does. Bibi believes that in the harsh world of international politics, power wisely used matters more than good intentions eloquently phrased. Obama sought to build bridges to Sunni Muslims by making eloquent speeches in Cairo and Istanbul while ignoring the power political realities that Sunni states cared most about — like the rise of Iran and the Sunni cause in Syria. Bibi read the Sunnis more clearly than Obama did; the value of Israeli power to a Sunni world worried about Iran has led to something close to a revolution in Israel’s regional position. Again, Obama thought that reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood (including its Palestinian affiliate, Hamas) would help American diplomacy and Middle Eastern democracy. Bibi understood that Sunni states like Egypt and its Saudi allies wanted Hamas crushed. Thus, as Obama tried to end the Gaza war on terms acceptable to Hamas and its allies, Bibi enjoyed the backing of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a successful effort to block Obama’s efforts. Israel’s neighbors may not like Bibi, but they believe they can count on him. They may think Obama has some beautiful ideas that he cares deeply about, but they think he’s erratic, unreliable, and doesn’t understand either them or their concerns.

Obama is an aspiring realist who wanted to work with undemocratic leaders on practical agreements. But Obama, despite the immense power of the country he leads, has been unable to gain the necessary respect from leaders like Putin and Xi that would permit the pragmatic relationships he wanted to build. Bibi is a practicing realist who has succeeded where Obama failed. Bibi has a practical relationship with Putin; they work together where their interests permit and where their interests clash, Putin respects Bibi’s red lines. Obama’s pivot to Asia brought the US closer to India and Japan, but has opened a deep and dangerous divide with China. Under Bibi’s leadership, Israel has stronger, deeper relationships with India, China and Japan than at any time in the past, and Asia may well replace Europe as Israel’s primary trade and investment partners as these relationships develop.

The marginalization of Abbas at the UN doesn’t just reflect the world’s preoccupation with bigger crises in the neighborhood. It reflects a global perception that a) the Sunni Arab states overall are less powerful than they used to be and that b) partly as a result of their deteriorating situation, the Sunni Arab states care less about the Palestinian issue than they used to. This is why African countries that used to shun Israel as a result of Arab pressure are now happy to engage with Israel on a variety of economic and defense issues. India used to avoid Israel in part out of fear that its own Kashmir problem would be ‘Palestinianized’ into a major problem with its Arab neighbors and the third world. Even Japan and China were cautious about embracing Israel too publicly given the power of the Arab world and its importance both in the world of energy markets and in the nonaligned movement. No longer.

Inevitably, all these developments undercut the salience of the Palestinian issue for world politics and even for Arab politics and they strengthen Israel’s position in the region and beyond. Obama has never really grasped this; Netanyahu has based his strategy on it. Ironically, much of the decline in Arab power is due to developments in the United States. Fracking has changed OPEC’s dynamics, and Obama’s tilt toward Iran has accelerated the crisis of Sunni Arab power. Netanyahu understands the impact of Obama’s country and Obama’s policy on the Middle East better than Obama does. Bibi, like a number of other leaders around the world, has been able to make significant international gains by exploiting the gaps in President Obama’s understanding of the world and in analyzing ways to profit from the unintended consequences and side effects of Obama policies that didn’t work out as Obama hoped.

Bibi’s successes will not and cannot make Israel’s problems and challenges go away. And finding a workable solution to the Palestinian question remains something that Israel cannot ignore on both practical and moral grounds. But Israel is in a stronger global position today than it was when Bibi took office; nobody can say that with a straight face about the nation that President Obama leads. When and if American liberals understand the causes both of Bibi’s successes and of Obama’s setbacks, then perhaps a new and smarter era of American foreign policy debate can begin.

RIGHT ANGLE: Obama’s Big Adventure

September 7, 2016

RIGHT ANGLE: Obama’s Big Adventure Bill Whittle Channel via YouTube, September 6, 2016

Shoigu in Tehran to rescue Putin’s plan from Assad’s Iranian-backed obstructionism

February 22, 2016

Shoigu in Tehran to rescue Putin’s plan from Assad’s Iranian-backed obstructionism, DEBKAfile, February 22, 2016

Shoigu_Ruhani

President Vladimir Putin this week mounted a rescue operation to unsnarl his blueprint for a solution of the Syrian crisis from the blockage placed in its path by none other than Bashar Assad. The Syrian ruler won’t hear of Moscow’s proposals for ending the war, or even the cessation of hostilities approved last week in Munich by the 17-member Syria Support Group.

DEBKAfile reports that the strains between Moscow and Damascus this week have blown back onto the working relations between the Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commands running the war in Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, referring to the lack of progress toward a ceasefire during a visit to Amman Sunday, Feb. 21, pointed mainly at the Syrian opposition. Its High Negotiations Committee insists first on an end to the sieges, a halt on Russian bombardment and the inclusion of the jihadist Nusra Front in the ceasefire.

But, according to our sources, the main monkey wrench has been thrown into the mix by Assad.

When Putin discovered that the Syrian ruler had won the secret backing of Tehran in h is refusal, he decided to send the supreme commander of the Russian campaign in Syria, Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu, to Tehran Sunday, Feb. 21, with a personal message for President Hassan Rouhani.

Gen. Shoigu laid before Rouhani the extent to which Russian intervention had turned the tide of the Syrian war in favor of the regime, and the great advantages of a political resolution that would end the conflict in a way that enhanced Russian and Iranian influence in the region to the maximum.

The Russian general stressed that at the end of the proposed political process, Assad would be required to step down. This concurrence was incorporated in the Putin-Obama deal for working together to solve the Syrian crisis.

But Rouhani was unmoved, according to the statement he issued at the end of the interview.

“The crisis in Syria can only be solved through political negotiation and respect for the rights of the country’s government and people, who are those taking the final decision regarding its future,”  he said.

This was taken in Moscow as Iran’s rejection of at least one element of the Putin plan – imposing a solution on Assad – but not the plan in its entirety. This qualified response was meant to nudge Moscow closer to Teheran and Moscow and pull away from Washington.

The Shoigu mission therefore did not lessen the strains between Russia, Iran and Assad – at least for now, according to DEBKAfile’s sources.

Although all the parties concerned agree that the war must be ended by political means, those means are the subject of controversy between Moscow and its allies. The Russians are seeking a staged advance towards the final goal by first scaling down military operations, the while gradually refocusing their efforts on political and diplomatic arrangements.

But Syrian and Iranian leaders want to keep the focus on the military course.

Moscow wants the Assad regime to make concessions for paving the way to a cease-fire, and to accept a transitional government taking over in Damascus with representation for the opposition. The Syrian dictator would then gradually transfer his powers to the stand-ins as they assume responsibility for the various branches of government.

But both Assad and Tehran are adamantly opposed to a transitional government being installed – or any other political steps being pursued – before the rebel forces are totally defeated in non-stop military operations – first in the north and then in the south.

Neither the Syrian ruler nor Iran show any sign of relenting, or appreciating that the dramatic progress achieved in the past month by Syrian army, Iranian and Hizballah forces were down to Russian military support and especially its air campaign against their enemies. They feel safe in their intransigence because they assume that Putin can’t afford to abruptly pull his military support from under their feet to make them bow to his demands.

After five months in which Moscow and the Russian air force have provided the Iranian leadership and Assad with signal victories on the ground, President Putin has been brought up short by the same Iranian-Syrian negative obstructionism, that has defied every effort to end the brutal five-year war, which has cost 470,000 lives, left 1.9 million injured, displaced half the country’s population of 23 million and left a Syria ravaged beyond recognition.

Sean Hannity Full One-on-One Interview with Donald Trump (2/18/2016)

February 19, 2016

Sean Hannity Full One-on-One Interview with Donald Trump (2/18/2016), Fox News via You Tube, February 18, 2016

(Trump discusses the Israel – “Palestine” situation and the mess Obama has made beginning at 11:05 during the interview. The rest is very good too. — DM)