Archive for the ‘Obama and Middle East’ category

Qatar, Trump and Double Games

June 9, 2017

Qatar, Trump and Double Games, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, June 9, 2017

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

Ahead of the 2016 US elections, WikiLeaks published documents which disclosed that the emir of Qatar presented Bill Clinton with a $1 million check for the Clinton Foundation as a gift for his 65th birthday. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, Qatar reportedly contributed some $6m. to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton, for her part, was deeply supportive of the regime and of Al Jazeera. For instance, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, Clinton praised Al Jazeera for its leading role in fomenting and expanding the protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak.

Clinton wasn’t the only one that Qatar singled out for generosity. Since the 1990s, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in US universities. Six major US universities have campuses in Doha.

Then there is the Brookings Institution. The premier US think tank had a revolving door relationship with the Obama and Clinton administrations.

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US President Donald Trump has been attacked by his ubiquitous critics for his apparent about-face on the crisis surrounding Qatar.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Trump sided firmly with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the other Sunni states that cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and instituted an air and land blockade of the sheikhdom on Monday.

On Wednesday, Trump said that he hopes to mediate the dispute, more or less parroting the lines adopted by the State Department and the Pentagon which his Twitter posts disputed the day before.

To understand the apparent turnaround and why it is both understandable and probably not an about-face, it is important to understand the forces at play and the stakes involved in the Sunni Arab world’s showdown with Doha.

Arguably, Qatar’s role in undermining the stability of the Islamic world has been second only to Iran’s.

Beginning in the 1995, after the Pars gas field was discovered and quickly rendered Qatar the wealthiest state in the world, the Qatari regime set about undermining the Sunni regimes of the Arab world by among other things, waging a propaganda war against them and against their US ally and by massively funding terrorism.

The Qatari regime established Al Jazeera in 1996.

Despite its frequent denials, the regime has kept tight control on Al Jazeera’s messaging. That messaging has been unchanging since the network’s founding. The pan-Arab satellite station which reaches hundreds of millions of households in the region and worldwide, opposes the US’s allies in the Sunni Arab world. It supports the Muslim Brotherhood and every terrorist group spawned by it. It supports Iran and Hezbollah.

Al Jazeera is viciously anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

It serves as a propaganda arm not only of al-Qaida and Hezbollah but of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other group that attacks the US, Israel, Europe and other Western targets.

Al Jazeera’s reporters have accompanied Hamas and Taliban forces in their wars against Israel and the US. After Israel released Hezbollah arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar from prison in exchange for the bodies of two IDF reservists, Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau hosted an on-air party in his honor.

Al Jazeera was at the forefront of the propaganda campaign inciting against then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2012. Its operations were widely credited with inciting their overthrow and installing in their places regimes controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist groups.

As for the regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world.

According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.

Given Qatar’s destabilizing and pernicious role in the region and worldwide in everything related to terrorism funding and incitement, Trump’s statement on Tuesday in support of the Sunnis against Qatar was entirely reasonable. What can the US do other than stand by its allies as they seek to coerce Qatar to end its destabilizing and dangerous practices? The case for supporting the Saudis, Egyptians, the UAE and the others against Qatar becomes all the more overwhelming given their demands.

The Sunnis are demanding that Qatar ditch its strategic alliance with Iran. They demand that Qatar end its financial support for terrorist groups and they demand that Qatar expel terrorists from its territory.

If Qatar is forced to abide by these demands, its abandonment of Iran in particular will constitute the single largest blow the regime in Tehran has absorbed in recent memory. Among other things, Qatar serves as Iran’s banker and diplomatic proxy.

If the story began and ended here, then Trump’s anti-Qatari stance would have been the obvious and only move. Beyond being the right thing to do, if Qatar’s regime is overthrown or emasculated, the development would mark the most significant achievement to date against the Iranian axis of jihad.

Unfortunately, the situation is not at all simple.

First there is the problem of Doha’s relations with key Americans and American institutions.

Ahead of the 2016 US elections, WikiLeaks published documents which disclosed that the emir of Qatar presented Bill Clinton with a $1 million check for the Clinton Foundation as a gift for his 65th birthday. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, Qatar reportedly contributed some $6m. to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton, for her part, was deeply supportive of the regime and of Al Jazeera. For instance, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, Clinton praised Al Jazeera for its leading role in fomenting and expanding the protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak.

Clinton wasn’t the only one that Qatar singled out for generosity. Since the 1990s, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in US universities. Six major US universities have campuses in Doha.

Then there is the Brookings Institution. The premier US think tank had a revolving door relationship with the Obama and Clinton administrations.

In 2014, The New York Times reported that Brookings, which opened a branch in Doha in 2002, had received millions of dollars in contributions from Qatar. In 2013 alone, the Qatari regime contributed $14.8 million to Brookings.

Not surprisingly, Brookings’ scholars supported the overthrow of Mubarak, and supported the Muslim Brotherhood regime during its year in power. Brookings scholars urged the Obama administration to cut off military assistance to Egypt after the military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Brookings scholars have similarly written sympathetically of Qatar and its ally Turkey. As the Investigative Project on Terrorism revealed in a four-part series on Brookings’ relations with Qatar in 2014, Brookings’ scholars ignored human rights abuses by Qatar and praised Turkey’s Erdogan regime as behaving like the US in enabling religion to have a role in public life.

It is likely that given then-president Barack Obama’s strategic goal of reorienting US Middle East policy away from its traditional Sunni allies and Israel toward Iran and its allies in Qatar and Turkey, that Brookings, Clinton and other beneficiaries of Qatar’s generosity were simply knocking on an open door. Indeed, in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, the Obama administration’s alliance with Qatar, Turkey and Iran against Sunnis and Israel came out of the shadows.

During the Hamas war with Israel, Obama sought to dislodge Egypt from its traditional role as mediator between Israel and Hamas and replace it with Qatar and Turkey. For their part, both regimes, which fund and support Hamas, accepted all of Hamas’s cease-fire demands against Israel and Egypt. As their partner, the Obama administration also supported Hamas’s demands.

Had Egypt and Israel bowed to those demands, Hamas would have achieved a strategic victory in its war against Israel and Egypt. To avoid buckling to US pressure, Egypt built a coalition with the same states that are now leading the charge against Qatar – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and openly supported Israel.

In the end, the standoff between the two sides caused the war to end in a draw. Hamas was not dismantled, but it failed to secure Israeli or Egyptian acceptance of any of its demands for open borders and access to the international banking system.

Given that Trump is not aligned with Brookings, the Clinton Foundation or US academia, it could be argued that he is not beholden to Qatari money in any way.

But unfortunately, they are not the only beneficiaries of Qatari largesse.

There is also the Pentagon.

In the 1990s, Qatar spent more than $1b. constructing the Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha.

It is the most sophisticated air force base in the region. In 2003, the base replaced Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base as headquarters for the US military’s Central Command. Since 2003, all US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are controlled from the base.

Following Trump’s Twitter postings, the Pentagon was quick to say that operations at Al Udeid base had not been influenced by the crisis between Qatar and its neighbors. The Pentagon spokesman refused to say whether or not Qatar sponsors terrorism.

Instead, Capt. Chris Davis stated, “I consider them a host to our very important base at Al Udeid.” He commended Qatar for hosting US forces and for its “enduring commitment to regional security.”

Also on Tuesday, according to the Egyptian media, Iran deployed Revolutionary Guard Corps forces to Doha to protect the emir and his palace.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s parliament voted to empower Erdogan to deploy forces to Qatar to protect the regime.

The moves by Qatar’s allies Iran and Turkey significantly raise the stakes in the contest of wills now at play between Qatar and its Sunni neighbors and adversaries.

With Iranian forces guarding the palace and the emir, the possibility of a bloodless coup inside the Al Thani family has been significantly diminished.

Any move against the emir will raise the prospect of an open war with Iran.

So, too, if Egypt and Saudi Arabia invade or otherwise attack Qatar, with or without US support, the US risks seeing its Arab allies at war with its NATO ally Turkey.

Under the circumstances, Trump’s refusal to endorse Article 5 of the NATO treaty during his speech in Brussels appears wise and well-considered.

Article 5 states that an attack against one NATO ally represents an attack against all NATO allies.

With the Pentagon dependent on the Qatari base, and with no clear path for unseating the emir through war or coup without risking a much larger and more dangerous conflict, the only clear option is a negotiated resolution.

Under the circumstances, the best the US can probably work toward openly is a diminishment of Qatar’s regional profile and financial support for Iran and its terrorist allies and proxies. Hence, Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he will mediate the conflict.

However, in the medium and long term, Trump’s statement on Twitter made clear his ultimate goal.

The Lessons of the Hamas War

March 3, 2017

The Lessons of the Hamas War, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, March 3, 2017

hamas-3

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

Sunni regimes, led by Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Saudi regime and the United Arab Emirates, were shocked to discover that the Obama administration was siding with their enemies against them.

If Israel went into the war against Hamas thinking that the Obama administration would treat it differently than it treated the Sunni regimes, it quickly discovered that it was mistaken. From the outset of the battle between Hamas and Israel, the Obama administration supported Hamas against Israel.

America’s support for Hamas was expressed at the earliest stages of the war when then-secretary of state John Kerry demanded that Israel accept an immediate cease-fire based entirely on Hamas’s terms. This demand, in various forms, remained the administration’s position throughout the 50-day war.

Netanyahu asked Sisi for help in blunting the American campaign for Hamas. Sisi was quick to agree and brought the Saudis and the UAE into an all-but-declared operational alliance with Israel against Hamas.

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The State Comptroller’s Report on Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war with Hamas in the summer of 2014, is exceedingly detailed. The problem is that it addresses the wrong details.

Israel’s problem with Hamas wasn’t its tactics for destroying Hamas’s attack tunnels. Israel faced two challenges in its war with Hamas that summer. The first had to do with the regional and global context of the war. The second had to do with its understanding of its enemy on the ground.

War between Hamas and Israel took place as the Sunni Arab world was steeped a two-pronged existential struggle. On the one hand, Sunni regimes fought jihadist groups that emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood movement. On the other, they fought against Iran and its proxies in a bid to block Iran’s moves toward regional hegemony.

On both fronts, the Sunni regimes, led by Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Saudi regime and the United Arab Emirates, were shocked to discover that the Obama administration was siding with their enemies against them.

If Israel went into the war against Hamas thinking that the Obama administration would treat it differently than it treated the Sunni regimes, it quickly discovered that it was mistaken. From the outset of the battle between Hamas and Israel, the Obama administration supported Hamas against Israel.

America’s support for Hamas was expressed at the earliest stages of the war when then-secretary of state John Kerry demanded that Israel accept an immediate cease-fire based entirely on Hamas’s terms. This demand, in various forms, remained the administration’s position throughout the 50-day war.

Hamas’s terms were impossible for Israel. They included opening the jihadist regime’s land borders with Israel and Egypt, and providing it with open access to the sea. Hamas demanded to be reconnected to the international banking system in order to enable funds to enter Gaza freely from any spot on the globe. Hamas also demanded that Israel release its terrorists from its prisons.

If Israel had accepted any of Hamas’s cease-fire terms, its agreement would have constituted a strategic defeat for Israel and a historic victory for Hamas.

Open borders for Hamas means the free flow of armaments, recruits, trainers and money to Gaza. Were Hamas to be connected to the international banking system, the jihadist regime would have become the banking center of the global jihad.

The Obama administration’s support for Hamas was not passive.

Obama and Kerry threatened to join the Europeans in condemning Israel at the UN. Administration officials continuously railed against IDF operations in Gaza, insinuating that Israel was committing war crimes by insisting that Israel wasn’t doing enough to avoid civilian casualties.

As the war progressed, the administration’s actions against Israel became more aggressive. Washington placed a partial embargo on weapons shipments to Israel.

Then on July 23, 2014, the administration took the almost inconceivable step of having the Federal Aviation Administration ban flights of US carriers to Ben-Gurion Airport for 36 hours. The flight ban was instituted after a Hamas missile fell a mile from the airport.

The FAA did not ban flights to Pakistan or Afghanistan after jihadists on the ground successfully bombed airplanes out of the sky.

It took Sen. Ted Cruz’s threat to place a hold on all State Department appointments, and Canada’s Conservative Party government’s behind-the-scenes diplomatic revolt to get the flight ban rescinded.

The government and the IDF were shocked by the ferocity of the administration’s hostility. But to his great credit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surmounted it.

Netanyahu realized that Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood nexus of jihad and also supported by Iran. As a result the Egyptians, Saudis and UAE rightly view it as a major enemy. Indeed, Egypt was in a state of war with Hamas in 2014. Gaza serves as the logistical base of the Salafist forces warring against the Egyptian military.

Netanyahu asked Sisi for help in blunting the American campaign for Hamas. Sisi was quick to agree and brought the Saudis and the UAE into an all-but-declared operational alliance with Israel against Hamas.

Since the Egyptians were hosting the cease-fire talks, Egypt was well-positioned to blunt Obama’s demand that Israel accept Hamas’s cease-fire terms.

In a bid to undermine Egypt, Obama and Kerry colluded with Hamas’s state sponsors Turkey and Qatar to push Sisi out of the cease-fire discussions. But due to Saudi and UAE support for Sisi and Israel, the administration’s attempts to sideline the Egyptians failed.

The cease-fire terms that were adopted at the end of the war contained none of Hamas’s demands. Israel had won the diplomatic war.

It was a strange victory, however. Netanyahu was never able to let the public know what was happening.

Had he informed the public, the knowledge that the US was backing Hamas would have caused mass demoralization and panic. So Netanyahu had to fight the diplomatic fight of his life secretly.

The war on the ground was greatly influenced by the diplomatic war. But the war on the ground was first and foremost a product of the nature of Hamas and of the nature of Hamas’s relationship with the PLO.

Unfortunately, the Comptroller’s Report indicates that the IDF didn’t understand either. According to the report, in the weeks before the war began, the then-coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eitan Dangot, told the security cabinet that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was at a crisis point and that hostilities were likely to break out if Israel didn’t allow humanitarian aid into the Strip.

On Wednesday we learned that Dangot’s view continues to prevail in the army. The IDF’s intelligence chief, Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel must send humanitarian aid to Gaza to avert a war.

There is truth to the IDF’s position. Hamas did in fact go to war against Israel in the summer of 2014 because it was short on supplies.

After Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt the previous summer, he shut Egypt’s border with Gaza because Gaza was the logistical base of the insurgency against his regime. The closed border cut off Hamas’s supply train of everything from antitank missiles to cigarettes and flour.

The problem with the IDF’s view of Hamas is that providing aid to Gaza means supplying Hamas first and foremost. Every shipment into Gaza strengthens Hamas far more than it serves the needs of Gaza’s civilian population. We got a good look at Hamas’s contempt for the suffering of its people during Protective Edge.

After seeing the vast dimensions of Hamas’s tunnel infrastructure, the then-OC Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman, told reporters that Hamas had diverted enough concrete to its tunnel project to build 200 kindergartens, two hospitals, 20 clinics and 20 schools.

Moreover, the civilian institutions that are supposed to be assisted by humanitarian aid all serve Hamas. During the war, three soldiers from the IDF’s Maglan unit were killed in southern Gaza when they were buried in rubble of a booby-trapped UNRWA clinic.

The soldiers were in the clinic to seal off the entry shaft of a tunnel that was located in an exam room.

Hamas had booby trapped the walls of the clinic and detonated it when the soldiers walked through the door.

All of the civilian institutions in Gaza, including those run by the UN, as well as thousands of private homes, are used by Hamas as part of its war machine against Israel.

So any discussion of whether or not to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza is not a humanitarian discussion. It is a discussion about whether or not to strengthen Hamas and reinforce its control over the population of Gaza.

This brings us to the goals of the war in Gaza in 2014. At the time, the government debated two possible endgames.

The first was supported by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni. Livni, and the Left more generally, supported using the war with Hamas as a means of unseating Hamas and restoring the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority to power in the area.

There were four problems with this notion. First, it would require Israel to reconquer Gaza.

Second, the Obama administration would never have agreed to an Israeli conquest of Gaza.

Third, Israel doesn’t have the forces to deploy to Gaza to retake control of the area without rendering its other borders vulnerable.

The final problem with Livni’s idea is that the PLO is no better than Hamas. From the outset of the war, the PLO gave Hamas unqualified support. Fatah militias in Gaza manned the missile launchers side by side with Hamas fighters. PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas represented Hamas at the cease-fire talks in Cairo. He led the political war against Israel in the West. And he financed Hamas’s war effort. Throughout the war Abbas sent a steady stream of funds to Gaza.

If PLO forces were returned to Gaza, they would behave precisely as they behaved from 2000 until Hamas kicked them out in 2007. That is, they would have acted as Hamas’s full partners in their joint war against Israel.

The second possible endgame involved a long-term strategy of defeating Hamas through attrition. This was the goal the government ended up partially adopting. The government ordered the IDF to destroy as much of Hamas’s missile arsenal as possible and to destroy its offensive tunnels into Israel. When the goals had been achieved to the point where the cost of opposing Obama grew greater than the battle gains, Netanyahu agreed to a cease-fire.

For the attrition strategy to have succeeded, the cease-fire would have only been the first stage of a longer war. For the attrition strategy to work, Israel needed to refuse to resupply Hamas. With its missile arsenal depleted and its tunnels destroyed, had Israel maintained the ban on supplies to Gaza, the residents would have revolted and Hamas wouldn’t have had the option of deflecting their anger onto Israel by starting a new war.

The IDF unfortunately never accepted attrition as the goal. From the Comptroller’s Report and Halevi’s statement to the Knesset this week, it appears the General Staff rejected attrition because it refuses to accept either the nature of Hamas or the nature of the PLO. Immediately after the cease-fire went into force, the General Staff recommended rebuilding Gaza and allowing an almost free flow of building supplies, including concrete, into Hamas’s mini-state.

The Comptroller’s Report is notable mainly because it shows that nearly three years after Protective Edge, official Israel still doesn’t understand what happened that summer. The problem with Hamas was never tactical. It was always strategic. Israel won the diplomatic battle because it understood the correlation of its strategic interests with those of the Sunni regimes.

It lost the military battle of attrition because it permitted Hamas to resupply.

A new approach to U.S. Middle East strategy

February 16, 2017

A new approach to U.S. Middle East strategy, Center for Security Policy, Adm. James “Ace” Lyons (Ret.) and Clare M. Lopez, February 15, 2017

puzzlepalace

The Trump administration has a unique opportunity to implement a new strategic policy to bring some semblance of stability to the current Middle East chaos. Under the pledge of putting “America first,” our core national security interest in the region should include the following:

  • Eliminating the Islamic State as an identifiable entity.
  • Preventing Iran from achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon capability.
  • Preventing Iran from achieving regional hegemony.
  • Supporting Iranians in their efforts to remove the corrupt Iranian theocracy.
  • Keeping open vital sea lanes and strategic choke points.
  • Defending U.S. bases and facilities.

• Re-emphasizing our support for our friends and allies while assisting threatened minorities (Christians, Assyrians/Chaldeans, Kurds and Yazidis).

Our strategy in the past has been reactive, but now must be driven by our vital core objectives. In that sense, it is not in the U.S. interest to become involved in a 1,300-year-old, intra-Islamic sectarian fight between Shiites and Sunnis. From a Western perspective, there is no good side in this conflict. Both want to kill us.

It also must be recognized that much of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement nation-state system formed in the Middle East after World War I is coming asunder. Syria and Iraq are fractured states and a readjustment of a regional balance of power between Shiite and Sunni will evolve out of the current crisis with or without U.S. involvement. Our invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army removed the main blocking force to the expansion of Iran’s Shiite Crescent and ensured the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.

A Sunni entity that clearly is not ISIS should be assisted to coalesce in what used to be Iraq. Such an entity could involve Anbar Province and the Nineveh Plain, where Assyrians/Turkman/Yazidis are unifying in an effort at preservation and stabilization.

In areas outside of Alawite and Kurdish control and areas liberated from ISIS in the former Syria, Syrian Free Army (SFA) commanders believe that with U.S. and other Western support, they could pry off significant forces from jihadi militias to create a force to defeat Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and ISIS. This approach should be explored. In implementing a new strategy, we must proceed in a manner that gains cooperation from those whose involvement is essential. This includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Turkey. The Gulf states must be persuaded to end support for Sunni jihadis, which can only happen if they are assured that they will not be threatened or surrounded by Iran’s Shiite Crescent.

The Trump administration’s recent declaration putting Iran “on notice” is a step in the right direction, as were U.S. Treasury sanctions on 12 entities for supporting Iran’s illicit ballistic missile program. Further, President Trump’s call for establishing safe zones in Syria, e.g., one in the northern Kurdish area, one along the Turkish border, and one on the Jordanian border, could help relieve economic pressure on Jordan and Turkey, which are providing support to millions of refugees. In return, we should expect Turkey and Jordan’s support for our new regional strategy.

President Obama’s policy that deliberately empowered Iran to advance its geostrategic ambitions and move toward a deliverable nuclear weapons capability is over. Our so-called nuclear agreement with Iran must also be terminated and Iran’s joint venture relationship, using North Korea as its off-site laboratory to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, must end. Holding Iran accountable to the agreement is a pipe dream. There is no agreement. Further, a clear, unambiguous declaration from the Trump administration with appropriate follow-on action will go a long way to gain Saudi and GCC cooperation.

With regard to Syria, Bashar Assad must go. It appears Russia may support such action as it reportedly proposed Alawite Gen. Manas Tlass (formerly with the Hafez Assad regime) as his replacement at the Astana talks. SFA commanders may accept this as long as the Assad clan is out of power and in exile. Under such an arrangement, the Alawites would keep control of Damascus and their coastal strip heartland, but lose the rest of former Syria. This is the de facto current situation on the ground today.

Russia may find such an arrangement acceptable, provided it keeps its bases in Latakia and Tartus. While these are major concessions, issues involving Ukraine/Crimea must also be part of the discussion, as well as Libya. The bottom line in the trade-offs must be Russia’s commitment to help in getting Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias out of what formerly was Syria.

Turkey also may be helpful in the overall realignment but must be managed carefully, as Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) is moving toward an authoritarian neo-Ottoman jihad state. Clearly, the No. 1 Turkish concern is the Kurds. One option may be to not allow the Kurdish northern-Syria enclave “Rojava” to extend to the Turkish border. There would instead be a safe zone there, guaranteed jointly by Russia and Turkey. Gas and oil pipelines also are major factors that must be included in discussions with both Russia and Turkey.

Since we have no vital objectives in Afghanistan, we should stop wasting our national treasure to support a corrupt tribal society.

If this new strategic approach is followed, our vital core strategic objectives will most likely stand a better chance of being achieved while gradually bringing the current chaos under control.

Samantha Power Reinvents Obama’s Record on Russia

January 25, 2017

Samantha Power Reinvents Obama’s Record on Russia, PJ MediaClaudia Rosett, January 24, 2017

samantharussiaUnited States U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power speaks during her final press conference, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

By all means, let’s have a debate about the dangers of American presidents and their administrations purveying “alternative facts.” But could the members of the media most ostentatiously seething over President Trump — and now busy presenting their own alternative facts — please spare us the pretense that the White House is suddenly in danger of losing its credibility. What’s left to lose? We’ve just had eight years of the Obama administration beaming out  alternative facts “narratives” to the mascot-media echo chamber, on the theory that saying something makes it so (“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”; Iran’s “exclusively peaceful” nuclear program; the Benghazi “video”; etc.).

It is Trump’s job to reverse this rot, not to adapt Obama’s fiction techniques to suit himself. But if anyone’s curious about the kind of fakery that Trump and his team should strive to avoid — in the interest of integrity and good policy — Obama’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has just given us a showcase example. In her farewell speech as UN ambassador, delivered Jan. 17 to the Atlantic Council, Power conjured an entire alternate universe, less by way of presenting alternative facts than by omitting a number of vital facts altogether. The result was to erase from the picture some of the most disastrous failures of the Obama administration, while insinuating that Trump is already complicit in the resulting mess.

Let me stipulate that Power did issue a warning that is valid, important, and urgent. Her topic, as she explained at the start of her speech, was “a major threat facing our great nation: Russia.”

Yep, no question about that. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a growing threat, as some of us have been arguing for more than a decade.

But it was on Obama’s watch that Russia became a mushrooming threat to a degree that even Obama and his team could not in the end ignore — welcoming Edward Snowden, snatching Crimea from Ukraine, moving back into the Middle East, backing the Assad regime and bombing in Syria, hacking hither and yon, and frustrating Power at the UN with its veto on the Security Council.

It was Obama himself, with his policy of “engagement,” who helped lay the groundwork for this rising threat — deferring to dictators, betraying allies, downsizing the U.S. military, and sneering at those who warned there would be hell to pay. Putin drew the logical conclusions, read this U.S. retreat as an invitation, and made his moves. One might have supposed that after years of Obama apologizing for America, Samantha Power in her swan-song lecture could have summoned the strength of character to apologize for Obama, and for her own role, as one of his top envoys. (Don’t hold your breath).

For Putin, Obama offered the opportunity of a lifetime — to roll right over that old “rules-based order,” which always depended on American leadership, and which Power now warns us is threatened by Russia.  Obama began with the 2009 “reset,” including the gift to Putin of yanking missile defense plans for Eastern Europe. Obama went on to promise Putin “more flexibility” after his 2012 reelection. In the 2012 presidential campaign debates, Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s warnings about Russia, scoffing that “the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

When Putin gave asylum in 2013 to American-security cyber-vandal Edward Snowden, mocking Obama as he did so, Obama’s mini-mouse response was to attend a G-20 summit in Russia regardless, but punish Putin by refraining from any bilateral meetings. About that same time, Obama erased his own “red line” on chemical weapons in Syria by way of turning over the problem to Russia. When Russia in 2014 snatched Crimea from Ukraine, Obama answered with sanctions that have done nothing to reverse Russia’s grab. Meantime, Obama’s administration celebrated Russia’s presence as one of the main parties to an Iran nuclear deal that Israel, and many American lawmakers, protested as a grave threat. When Putin sent Russian warships into the Mediterranean and Russian bombers into Syria, Obama responded by hosting international talking shops, while Power gave impotent lectures at the UN.

None of this wilting U.S. policy figured in Power’s speech as part of the problem. She justified the “reset” on grounds that “2017 is not 2009.” (Right, and 2009 was not 1991, when post-Soviet Russia looked like a friend on the ropes. By 2009, Russia had already engaged in such feats as poisoning dissident spy Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210, meddling in Ukraine’s elections, murdering a series of journalists, and transgressing into Georgia.) Power suggested that in 2009, when Putin’s sidekick, Dmitry Medvedev, was president of Russia, there was more common ground with the U.S. (surely she is aware, as was her flexible boss, that even during that interval, Putin, not Medvedev, was the real power in the Kremlin).

Power in her speech claimed that “anyone who has seen my debates in the UN Security Council with Russia knows that I and my government have long had serious concerns about its government’s aggressive and destabilizing actions.” But in her recitation of specifics, that “long” concern seemed to extend back only to about 2014, as if the previous five years of Obama’s engagement, reset, retreat, flexibility, disappearing red line, ineffectual sanctions and feckless dialogue were irrelevant.

For good measure, Power threw in a classic Obama apology for America (Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, recipient of the 2009 “reset” button, must love this routine):

Now, I acknowledge there are times when actions the United States takes in the interest of defending our security and that of our allies can be seen by other nations as offensive moves that threaten their security, and we need to be alert to this, which is why dialogue is so important.

Power then deplored Russia’s policies in which “lying is a strategic asset,” and its goal of “creating a world where all truth is relative, and where trust in the integrity of our democratic system is lost.” Correct on all counts, and an important warning. Yet somehow disingenuous coming from a senior member of the administration that unapologetically turned the National Security Council into a Ben Rhodes narrative workshop, mind-melded with President Obama. She made no mention of that.

Amid all this, Power worked around to the punch line — “we must continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to determine the full extent of Russia’s interference in our recent elections… .” Here again, Russian hacking is without question a threat to be deterred, stopped, punished. But there’s that troubling administration timeline, in which Russian hacking merited merely a public warning before the 2016 presidential election. After the vote, and Trump’s victory, it suddenly emerged on the Obama administration’s twilight agenda as a threat of the first order.

Power made a number of recommendations, some worthy in their own right, but — coming from this particular speaker — staggering for the degree of hypocrisy involved. She said “we have to do a better job of informing our citizens about the seriousness of the threat the Russian government poses.” (Quite right, but where’s that apology owed to Mitt Romney?).

Most memorable was her urging that “we must reassure our allies that we have their backs, and ensure that Russia pays a price for breaking the rules.” Yes, absolutely. But that’s quite an utterance coming from Power, who just last month, as Obama’s willing envoy, betrayed one of America’s closest allies, Israel, at the UN Security Council. It was Power who raised her hand to abstain from the vote on Resolution 2334 — allowing the passage, absent a U.S. veto, of measures deeply damaging to the Jewish state, and extremely difficult for any U.S. administration to now reverse.

Having by turns revised, scrubbed, excused, fudged and recast the Obama record on Russia, Power wrapped up by quoting George Washington and prescribing — who could argue? — that we must be “clear-eyed about the threat Russia poses from the outside” and dedicated to “restoring citizens’ faith in our democracy on the inside.”

Hypocrisy, though unattractive, is not necessarily dangerous. But it becomes so when coupled with political power and employed to cover up important truths. Russia is indeed a serious and growing threat, on multiple fronts. But to confront this requires not a Potemkin facade erected to  deflect attention from years of terrible policy, but an accurate understanding of how we got here. Samantha Power and Barack Obama, with their exit warnings about Russia, owed us at least that much.

Which brings me back to alternative facts, and what we should require of Trump. He inherits a Russia that was in effect invited by the Obama administration to become the grave and growing threat we see today. Putin availed himself richly of that invitation. To remedy this will take American leadership, courage and candor. If anyone in the new Trump administration ends up giving at any stage a speech similar in its Orwellian manipulations to this farewell peroration by Samantha Power, Trump should fire that speaker forthwith. America deserves better.

What Obama Owes Putin—and Why Donald Trump Is Left Holding the Bag

January 17, 2017

What Obama Owes Putin—and Why Donald Trump Is Left Holding the Bag, Tablet MagazineLee Smith, January 17, 2017

(A long but fascinating analysis of Obamas’ Middle East policy, of which a strong Iran was the centerpiece and in which Putin was his tool, ally and master. — DM)

The Obama administration’s dual-track diplomacy was different because the public track was intended to cover for the real show going on behind the scenes. For instance, if it looked like Obama was at odds with Putin over Russia’s destructive escalation in Syria and its role in crushing the rebels and killing civilians, nothing could have been further from the truth. Yet Obama needed Putin to rescue Iran and save its regional position. So while Obama was denouncing Putin in public, his White House errand boys were actually meeting in private with Putin’s errand boys, helping the Russians to accomplish the very things that the administration—especially the State Department—then publicly denounced. On bad days, it could look like there were actually two U.S. governments, pursuing policies that were diametrically opposed to each other. In fact, there was only one government, led by Obama—and the policy of that government was entirely coherent, although not necessarily wise.

For what mattered most to Obama wasn’t Syria, nor even was it the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is typically referred to as Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative. Even that was a feint, cover for a larger strategy that entailed a realignment of interests in the Middle East and a new form of foreign-policy “realism” that would get American troops out of the Middle East—and put America in the same column as Iran and its allies, including Vladimir Putin.

How could Obama cover America’s retreat, yet ensure a certain amount of stability in the Middle East? Israel was too small for the role of regional policeman, and besides, its policies toward the Palestinians pointed toward instability. The Sunni Arab states were fractious and incapable of working together, and their own internal problems gave rise to extremism. That left Iran.

Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, . . . thought crushing Assad would be a huge strategic setback for Iran. And that’s just what worried Obama, who hardly needed the Iranians to warn him that realignment would collapse if America targeted the Syrian regime. After all, realignment was predicated on the idea of a strong Iran with a can-do Quds Force that could act as the region’s new policeman. An Iran knocked back down to size, and where the country’s internal opposition would be emboldened, would be of no use to a White House keen to hand over the keys to the Middle East and get out. Obama needed a big Iran, a “successful regional power,” as he’s put it.

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Is Donald Trump a Russian secret agent? Did he pay FSB hookers to pee on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz in Moscow, overlooking the Kremlin? It’s silly season, so any drunk on a fat oppo-research expense account can write down any crazy foolishness they want and Buzzfeed will let you decide if it’s true because that, as Buzzfeed’s editor, Ben Smith, solemnly explained to The New York Times, is where American journalism is at in 2017. Duly noted, Buzzfeed. Enjoy the golden showers.

What’s being obscured by this grotesquerie is the origin and the actual substance of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, which in turn affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Or, to put it another way: Is Donald Trump likely to continue the policies of his predecessor, which set the Middle East on fire and led to 500,000 deaths in Syria, and to Putin biting off large chunks of the sovereign nation of Ukraine? Or is he likely to reverse those policies? Or can he, even if he wanted to?

The single-mindedness with which the White House and the remnants of the Clinton campaign have pursued the idea that Donald Trump is a pawn of Vladimir Putin is not based on silly stories about peeing prostitutes or secret computer servers that connect the Trump organization to the Kremlin. Rather, it’s an attempt to manufacture more smoke to obscure the reality of Obama’s own determination to collaborate with a hostile Russian leader in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Sure, Obama recently sent 35 Russian diplomats packing and shuttered Russian diplomatic facilities in Maryland and New York, but this was after seven years of looking the other way while Russia seized Crimea, then Donbass; waged cyberattacks on the Baltic countries; brought down a passenger jet over Ukraine; sheltered Edward Snowden; and bombed schools and hospitals in Syria. All of these actions threatened global stability and American interests, yet Obama only puffed his chest after the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails—long after it mattered, and after the moving vans have already started to haul his stuff out of the White House.

The reason top national-security journalists, policy mandarins, and much of the Washington establishment can’t fathom Obama’s relationship with Putin is only partly due to partisanship. The real reason it’s so hard to see how much room the outgoing president gave Putin is because misdirection has been Obama’s guiding principle for seven years.

The president made it look like he was at odds with Putin for much of his two terms—for instance, loudly poo-pooing the Russian campaign in Syria and warning of Vietnam-style “quagmires,” dismissing Russia as a weak country, sending an LGBT delegation to the Sochi Olympics to underscore his differences with Russia’s treatment of the LGBT community. All this helped obscure the fact that when it really counted, Obama took special care to signal the Russian strongman that their interests were aligned. That wasn’t because he has a man-crush on Putin, but because he had a larger purpose in view—securing the Iran nuclear deal.

The point isn’t that Obama lied. Sure, he lied. All politicians lie all the time, right and left, Republican and Democrat. All governments lie, perhaps especially liberal democracies, which don’t have the luxury afforded authoritarian regimes to do whatever they want at no cost to their approval ratings, which hardly matter. Liberal democracies lie especially when they’re crafting policies that would make many of their constituents queasy.

For two terms the Obama White House staged a foreign-policy puppet show, while the real drama took place far from the spotlight—a mutant variation of dual-track diplomacy. Policy is often conducted along two tracks—maybe military and diplomatic, or hard power and soft power, like development assistance or cultural-exchange programs. Diplomacy is almost always conducted on two tracks. Track-two diplomacy is a term of art that refers to the nonofficial meetings held by private individuals or groups that give the official parties the nonofficials represent enough room to disclaim ownership if or when it blows up. The Oslo peace process began as track-two diplomacy, for example, as have plenty of other major diplomatic initiatives. The point is that whether we’re talking about foreign aid or political pressure, military force or moral suasion, the two tracks of dual-track diplomacy are almost always pointed in the same general direction, with the aim of securing the same outcome.

The Obama administration’s dual-track diplomacy was different because the public track was intended to cover for the real show going on behind the scenes. For instance, if it looked like Obama was at odds with Putin over Russia’s destructive escalation in Syria and its role in crushing the rebels and killing civilians, nothing could have been further from the truth. Yet Obama needed Putin to rescue Iran and save its regional position. So while Obama was denouncing Putin in public, his White House errand boys were actually meeting in private with Putin’s errand boys, helping the Russians to accomplish the very things that the administration—especially the State Department—then publicly denounced. On bad days, it could look like there were actually two U.S. governments, pursuing policies that were diametrically opposed to each other. In fact, there was only one government, led by Obama—and the policy of that government was entirely coherent, although not necessarily wise.

For what mattered most to Obama wasn’t Syria, nor even was it the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is typically referred to as Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative. Even that was a feint, cover for a larger strategy that entailed a realignment of interests in the Middle East and a new form of foreign-policy “realism” that would get American troops out of the Middle East—and put America in the same column as Iran and its allies, including Vladimir Putin.

Yes, as Obama believed, Americans were sick of the problems and psychoses of the Middle East, and angry that George W. Bush failed to win his two Middle East wars. But neither Congress nor the U.S. foreign-policy establishment was keen to see the United States dismantle a regional security architecture it took 70 years to build, and which Obama and his young aides saw as a guarantee of future friction, and future U.S. military engagement. Someone needed to smash that architecture with a hammer.

So the Obama White House made stuff up. No one wanted to side with Iran and downgrade traditional allies like Israel. And so the Obama administration said that wasn’t happening. And the way it obscured the truth was to stage a dog-and-pony show with familiar Beltway names and faces to keep the Buzzfeed kids busy pondering the complexities of U.S. foreign policy while the adults went about their deadly serious business. What looked like the president of the United States pulling a rabbit out of his hat was actually Obama sawing a woman in half—and drawing blood.

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Is that really what happened? Some former Obama officials, like the administration’s onetime Syria point man, Frederic Hof, argue that the reason the administration’s foreign policy is a mess is because the president and his men in the White House lacked experience in the federal bureaucracy. In this view, the Obama team—namely, National Security Adviser Susan Rice—didn’t know how to manage what people in the know call the “interagency process,” or how the various institutions, like the National Security Council staff, State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence community process policy.

The reality is that Obama and his closest aides were contemptuous of the institutions, staffed by those very same Beltway bureaucrats that collectively make up what Obama deputy Ben Rhodes disparagingly called “The Blob.” As both Obama and Rhodes have explained, the mediocrities worthy of contempt included members of Obama’s cabinet. The reason for tapping figures like Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, David Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Samantha Power was to use the establishment as cover, while the real players, like Obama and Rhodes, Rob Malley, and a few select others, maneuvered in the shadows, and spun covering fictions. By 2012, as Gates and Panetta detailed in their memoirs, the Wise Men came to understand they were simply pawns in the president’s larger game, and quit before the real bloodshed started.

Hillary Clinton, with an eye to her presidential campaign, was not about to cross Obama in public, as Gates, Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and others did, but she knew she was window dressing, too. Her State Department was surprised when John Kerry, then head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was tasked to open a channel with the Iranians through Oman. The concessions Kerry offered Iran, especially the right to enrich uranium, angered Clinton’s staff. Kerry was screwing up badly, they leaked to reliable press contacts, they’d never have blundered like that.

Was the Clinton team really shocked and outraged? No, it was just cranking up its own fog machine, lest anyone realize the White House had done the worst thing anyone can do to someone else in Washington—make them irrelevant. Hillary Clinton’s job wasn’t to make policy—it was to rack up frequent-flier miles and stay out of the way while the White House handled the big-ticket items like Israel, Iran, China, and every other issue of any major importance. Nor did she particularly want the responsibility for decisions that she and her coterie may have opposed, and which certainly were likely to anger many of her prominent traditional liberal supporters. “The president,” as one official from a pro-Israel organization in Washington told me, “leapfrogged the State Department.”

Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, was either less ambitious or more vain than Clinton, or maybe both. He was the electronic rabbit while the real work of shaping the world was done by much younger men who represented the will of the president of the United States. What Kerry did in public, all those marathon negotiating sessions, all those windy speeches, was a sideshow. The fact that his tremendous vanity made him think that it was real only added conviction to his performance—all the better to generate buzz among 27-year-old reporters at Buzzfeed and their instant-foreign-policy-expert buddies at the newly-minted Washington “think tanks” led by Democratic political operatives like Neera Tanden, whose actual experience of any particular part of the world or area of human endeavor—warfare, diplomacy, nuclear engineering, you name it—was nil.

So while Buzzfeed—and the New Yorker—wrote articles about how John Kerry was manfully negotiating cease-fires in Syria with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, it was, in fact, Obama’s own Middle East point man, Robert Malley, who conveyed the president’s real policy. Almost as soon as Obama called for Assad to step aside in August 2011, the administration came to regret that bit of grandstanding, and walked it back. As Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told me, “The administration went from ‘transitioning away from Assad’ to ‘de-escalating’ the conflict, or stopping the bloodshed. The White House used a veneer of humanitarian concern to elide the fact that removing Assad was no longer a part of the equation. It was now about shutting down the war against Assad.”

It wasn’t long before foreign officials came to understand that Obama was working two seemingly opposing channels—the trick was figuring out which channel was real. As a source close to the Turkish government explained to me, Turkey’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, eventually concluded that Obama was using Clinton as a prop. Whatever promises she might make on Syria, for instance, were worthless. They were also often actively misleading, as they were unconnected to what the Americans were actually doing on the ground. The White House had sent its top diplomat out to lie, and without informing her she was lying.

No one saw more of the administration’s shell game than Israel. The White House reassured Jerusalem that it wasn’t going to sell Iran the farm—Israel was their ally, and Iran was the enemy. As one former senior U.S. official told me, “The Bush administration and Israel had developed a pressure track on Iran, primarily through the intelligence community. This was the track that produced Stuxnet. But Obama shut down the pressure track with the opening of the Oman channel since they didn’t believe that pressure and diplomacy work together. But the Obama White House couldn’t tell the Israelis they were shutting down the pressure track. So the president wrapped them up in planning, promising, for instance, a Stuxnet 2.0. So you have emissaries going back and forth, planning and planning and planning, which was actually just stalling.”

Moreover, said the former U.S. official, the Israelis knew that Obama was lying about the Oman channel. He added that the head of the U.S. team negotiating with Iran, Wendy Sherman, “would meet openly with the Iranians as part of the P5+1 talks, then fly to Jerusalem, and tell the Israelis, ‘We got your back.’ But the Israelis knew the Americans were meeting with Iran because they had the tail numbers of planes going to Oman. The Israelis went to Obama’s then national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, and said, ‘We know what’s going on.’ ”

In fact, the Israelis didn’t understand. They thought, like most critics of the Iran deal, that the administration was just flubbing negotiations and needed help. But the White House didn’t care that much about the particulars because the JCPOA was simply a device to allow for a larger, even more historic play—Obama wanted to get America out of the Middle East, and realigning with Iran was America’s exit strategy.

For the big problem with the region, from Obama’s perspective, is the lure of the “Washington playbook,” a set of guiding principles that typically point to the use of force, which was passed down by generations of government grandees—the kind he used as rodeo clowns. The question was: How could Obama cover America’s retreat, yet ensure a certain amount of stability in the Middle East? Israel was too small for the role of regional policeman, and besides, its policies toward the Palestinians pointed toward instability. The Sunni Arab states were fractious and incapable of working together, and their own internal problems gave rise to extremism. That left Iran.

Clearly, there are plenty of Obama administration officials enamored with the Islamic Republic, whether they’re attracted to the vintage patina of late 20th-century Third Worldism or classic Persian culture. What was most appealing to Obama, as he told a meeting of Gulf Arab officials at Camp David in 2015, was simply that the Iranians are capable of getting things done—a sentiment that he expressed in the context of his admiration for the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ expeditionary unit led by Qassem Soleimani. However, he also realized that this conviction and the policy it undergirded would have grossed out a large number, likely a majority, of Americans, and their elected representatives. So he lied, or misled and misdirected—and said the JCPOA was about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and nothing more.

***

All the major foreign-policy issues of the Obama presidency (the fraying of the bilateral relationship with Israel, the withdrawal from Iraq, Russia, etc.) were subsets of realignment policy—including the administration’s management of the single largest strategic, political, and humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century, the Syrian conflict. Obama’s cabinet held the mainstream view of the Syrian war—Panetta, Clinton, Kerry, Petraeus, and Power all supported arming the rebels to defeat Assad, or at least compel him to negotiate under harder circumstances. But that was exactly the opposite of what Obama wanted to do.

A more hawkish position was expressed by the U.S. officials like then-head of CENTCOM and now Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, who thought crushing Assad would be a huge strategic setback for Iran. And that’s just what worried Obama, who hardly needed the Iranians to warn him that realignment would collapse if America targeted the Syrian regime. After all, realignment was predicated on the idea of a strong Iran with a can-do Quds Force that could act as the region’s new policeman. An Iran knocked back down to size, and where the country’s internal opposition would be emboldened, would be of no use to a White House keen to hand over the keys to the Middle East and get out. Obama needed a big Iran, a “successful regional power,” as he’s put it.

A victory for the Syrian opposition—whom the White House could not help but disparage even as the president and his aides honored the victims of Assad’s depredations, i.e., the opposition—would have been a disaster for the Obama administration. It would have not only cashiered Obama’s hopes for a hegemonic Iran capable of managing American regional interests but would have required Washington to manage the varied and often conflicting interests of its regional allies, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. In other words, an opposition victory would have demanded more American involvement in the Middle East—more time, attention, energy, money, and perhaps blood.

The structural problem with Obama’s grand realignment is that Iran simply can’t handle the load. Obama should have understood this every time he had to tip the scales on behalf of the Iranians. When the administration leaked that Israel struck Iranian arms convoys headed to Hezbollah, Obama should’ve understood that he was tipping the scales, but it still wasn’t working. Qassem Suleimani turned out to be less than impressive, for his Quds Force couldn’t even tackle ISIS without the U.S. providing air support in Tikrit. The much-heralded operation to take back Mosul before Obama left office is such a mess that the White House simply doesn’t talk about it anymore.

When the Russians escalated in Syria in September 2015, Obama should have seen it as a clear sign he’d been wrong about Iran: The IRGC couldn’t even put down the farmers and carpenters the American president repeatedly disparaged. They needed the Russians to do it for them.

The White House said Putin’s action caught them by surprise, but that is unlikely to be true. The Russians were moving men and materiel for months through the Bosphorus—under the control of NATO member Turkey—at least since Suleimani’s July 2015 trip to Moscow to ask for Russian intervention.

The reality is that the Russian campaign in Syria served vital Obama interests. There was no point in realigning with Iran if Tehran’s regional position collapsed. Putin saved not only Assad and Iran, but Obama’s realignment policy. It was the second time the Russian president rescued Obama’s realignment policy—the first being when he offered the deal over Assad’s chemical weapons that allowed the commander-in-chief to walk back his red line.

Obama owes Putin, which is why he let the Russians get away with nearly everything it chose to do the last seven years, including its attacks on the American political system. What’s left for Trump is to manage the Russia policy he inherited from Obama—or overturn the table.

Obama’s Mideast Legacy Is One of Tragic Failure

January 15, 2017

Obama’s Mideast Legacy Is One of Tragic Failure, Gatestone InstituteAlan M. Dershowitz, January 15, 2017

Radical Islamic terrorists have replaced authoritarian secular tyrants.

Both are bad, but tyrants at least produce a degree of stability and predictability. They also tend to keep their tyranny domestic, whereas terrorists tend to export their evil tactics.

We should have learned the lesson from the replacement of the tyrannical Shah of Iran by the far more tyrannical and dangerous ayatollahs. But we did not. We insisted on supporting the “democracy” of the Arab spring, which resulted in the replacement of undemocratic domestic tyrants by undemocratic international terrorists.

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The Middle East is a more dangerous place after eight years of the Obama presidency than it was before. The eight disastrous Obama years follow eight disastrous George W. Bush years, during which that part of the world became more dangerous as well. So have many other international hot spots.

In sum, the past 16 years have seen major foreign policy blunders all over the world, and most especially in the area between Libya and Iran — that includes Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and the Gulf.

With regard to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the Obama policies have made the prospects for a compromise peace more difficult to achieve. When Israel felt that America had its back — under both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush — they offered generous proposals to end settlements and occupation in nearly all of the West Bank.

Tragically the Palestinian leadership — first under Yasser Arafat and then under Mahmoud Abbas — did not accept either offers from Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Clinton in 2000-2001, nor Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008. Now they are ignoring current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s open offer to negotiate with no preconditions.

In his brilliant book chronicling American-Israeli relationship, Doomed To Succeed, Dennis Ross proves conclusively that whenever the Israeli government has confidence in America’s backing, it has been more willing to make generous compromise offers than when it has reason to doubt American support.

Obama did not understand this crucial reality. Instead of having Israel’s back, he repeatedly stabbed Israel in the back, beginning with his one-sided Cairo speech near the beginning of his tenure, continuing with his failure to enforce the red line on chemical weapons use by Syria, then allowing a sunset provision to be included in the Iran deal, and culminating in his refusal to veto the one-sided UN Security Council resolution, which placed the lion’s share of blame on the Israelis for the current stalemate.

2017-1Obama’s one-sided Cairo speech, on June 4, 2009, took place before a large number of Islamic sheikhs and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Image source: White House)

These ill-advised actions — especially the Security Council resolution — have disincentivized the Palestinian leadership from accepting Netanyahu’s offer to sit down and negotiation a compromise peace. They have been falsely led to believe that they can achieve statehood through the United Nations, or by other means that do not require compromise.

The Iran deal, while it delayed Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, virtually guaranteed that it would be allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal as soon as the major restrictions on the deal expire in the next decade. Israel will never allow a regime sworn to the destruction of the nation-state of the Jewish people to secure such a weapon.

So the likelihood of an eventual dangerous military confrontation has been increased, rather than decreased, by the poorly negotiated Iran deal.

Obama’s failure to carry out his red-line threat against the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons has weakened American credibility among its allies and adversaries alike. It has created a power vacuum that Russia was quick to fill. Turkey, too, has flexed its bullying muscles, as its irascible and egomaniacal leader has used the excuse of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to go after another American ally, the Kurds, who have at least as strong a claim to statehood as the Palestinians.

America’s traditional allies in the Middle East — Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — have all been weakened by Obama’s policies, most especially the Iran deal. America’s traditional enemies — Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — have been strengthened, along with Turkey.

Terrorism has increased and moved northward to Europe, partly as a result of the Syrian crisis. ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist offshoots, though weakened, remain a serious threat to regional stability and to civilians.

A destabilized Middle East poses increasing dangers to American allies and to peace. The blame for this instability is shared by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. The invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein divided that country, rendering it ungovernable, and invited Iran to play a major role in its current destabilized condition.

The toppling of Moammar Gadhafi left Libya open to increasing terrorist influences. The attempt to replace Bashar Assad has turned Syria into a nightmare.

The forced resignation of Hosni Mubarak initially placed Egypt under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, and strengthened Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Only a coup, opposed by the Obama administration, restored some semblance of stability to Egypt.

Lebanon has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hezbollah, a terrorist group under the influence of Iran that has 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel’s population centers. The “Shiite arc” now runs from Iran through parts of Iraq and Syria and into Lebanon.

This is the tragic legacy of the Obama administration’s failed efforts to undo the harms caused by the George W. Bush administration. Radical Islamic terrorists have replaced authoritarian secular tyrants.

Both are bad, but tyrants at least produce a degree of stability and predictability. They also tend to keep their tyranny domestic, whereas terrorists tend to export their evil tactics.

We should have learned the lesson from the replacement of the tyrannical Shah of Iran by the far more tyrannical and dangerous ayatollahs. But we did not. We insisted on supporting the “democracy” of the Arab spring, which resulted in the replacement of undemocratic domestic tyrants by undemocratic international terrorists.

History will look kindly on Obama’s domestic successes, but it will judge his mideast policy harshly.

Obama’s Enabling of Palestinian Terror

January 11, 2017

Obama’s Enabling of Palestinian Terror, Front Page MagazineJoseph Puder, January 11, 2017

abbasobama

When we consider last month’s United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSC) 2334 that passed with deliberate U.S. abstention and later, justified in a speech by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, it makes the adage below come to mind. The Midrash (commentary on part of the Hebrew Scriptures) tells us, “He who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.”  Maimonides wrote in The Guide of the Perplexed that “the wicked and calculating person who killed intentionally and was sentenced to death – if he seeks sanctuary among us, we must not provide him with asylum, and not have mercy upon him, because compassion toward the wicked is cruelty to all beings.

In supporting the Palestinian regime that seeks the destruction of the Jewish State as its ultimate goal, the Obama administration is being compassionate toward the wrong party.  The Obama administration is knowingly and deliberately supporting the creation of another unstable Arab authoritarian regime that has failed its people.  Mahmoud Abbas, like Arafat before him, albeit more subtle, seeks the same goal: undermining the Jewish state, and replacing it with an undemocratic Palestinian state.  Abbas wouldn’t return to the negotiating table unless he is heavily bribed, and like Arafat, at the crucial moment when all reasonable concessions had been made, he walked out.

At their September 16, 2008 meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert agreed to forgo sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and proposed that in the framework of the peace agreement, the area containing the religious sites in Jerusalem would be managed by a special committee consisting of representatives from five nations: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestinians, the U.S. and Israel.  The advisors and Fatah officials heard that Olmert laid out for Abbas not only the details of the agreement but also a large map upon which he outlined the borders of the future Palestinian state.  Abbas, like Arafat in July, 2000, walked out.

Considering Palestinian terrorism incited by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority against Jewish civilians and soldiers alike, it becomes clear that the Obama administration has shown compassion toward Palestinian aspirations and contempt for Jews aspiring to settle in their ancestral regions of Judea and Samaria.  The Administration would be quite content on a “judenrein” West Bank.   In fact, the U.S. and its European allies support the PA with huge grants, portions of which goes to pay salaries to Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands and their families.  They have likewise funded Palestinian-Arab construction projects, built illegally throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Obama administration has also shown compassion for the Iranian regime by ending the economic sanctions against the radical Islamic Iranian regime, which hangs gays and lesbians as well as juveniles.  Amnesty International reported on January 26, 2016, that “Iran remains the leading executioner of juvenile offenders.”  The New York Post reported on August 3, 2016 that “The Obama administration quietly shipped $400 million stacked on wooden pallets in an unmarked plane to Iran in January – just as Tehran was releasing four Americans who had been detained there.”  This was done to appease the Islamic Republic, which is the leading state sponsor of terror around the world, and that has taken Americans in Iran as hostages.

U.S. Mideast mediator Dennis Ross pointed out that the Obama administration was so enamored with the so-called “moderate” Iranian President Rouhani, that it “showed readiness to accept an industrial-scale Iranian nuclear program and not to roll it back.”  The Obama administration was willing to bend its principles in order to foster a relationship and perhaps an alliance of sorts (against the Islamic State in Iraq) with the Ayatollahs regime that promised “to wipe Israel off the map.”

In the summer of 2009, the Iranian people voted for freedom and against the choices of the theocratic regime that oppressed them. They demonstrated in the millions with signs that read “Obama, are you with them or with us.”  Obama did not respond. He proved to have little compassion for the oppressed.

In Syria, the Shiite-Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their supported Iraqi-Shiite militias, as well as the Lebanese-Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, are murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian Sunni Muslims, Christians, and others civilians with impunity.  They are bolstering the dictatorship of the Alawi (offshoot of Shiite Islam) minority ruler Bashar Assad.  The Russians have also joined in the killing of Syrian civilians in the name of combatting so-called “terrorists.”

The Palestinians of Hamas and the PA raise their children on hate and expound on the destruction of the Jewish state in schools, mosques, in the media, and in their policy directives.  The Palestinian intolerance towards Jews and Christians is deeply embedded, but due to political correctness, it has never been sufficiently reported in the western media, or by western governments.  Under the Palestinian regime, Christian Arabs have been victims of frequent human rights abuse by Muslims. There are many examples of intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycotts, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion. Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are directly responsible for many of the human rights violations. Muslims who have converted to Christianity are in the greatest danger. They are often left defenseless against cruelty by Muslim fundamentalists. Some have been murdered.

There is a clear dichotomy in determining who the compassionate side is, and who is the cruel. It comes together perfectly clear in the Syrian civil war arena.  Thousands of Palestinians are fighting on behalf of the Syrian dictator, and help in slaughtering the Syrian people who are fighting for their freedom.  The Palestinian radical group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmed Jibril, provided the Assad war machine with intelligence and ground support, when he laid siege to the Palestinian populated Yarmouk refugee camp.  The PFLP-GC, once a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) joined the Assad troops in killing fellow Palestinians.

Conversely, Israel has opened its hospital gates to wounded Syrians, both civilians and soldiers.  Prime Minister Netanyahu announced last month “We are prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they are not combatants. Bring them to Israel, we will take care of them in our hospitals as we have done with thousands of Syrian civilians. We are looking into ways of doing this. It is being explored as we speak.”  Netanyahu added, “The suffering is great, and the one initiative we took is to help – as I said – thousands of Syrians who are sometimes mutilated beyond belief. We help them. I offered to do more today. I don’t know if we can resolve [the crisis in] Syria, but we can help mitigate some of the suffering. That is the best that Israel can do.”

Being compassionate toward the Palestinian’s aspirations to destroy the Jewish state in stages by forming a terrorist supporting state, the Obama administration is being cruel toward the Jewish state, which seeks to defend its people from the ongoing Palestinian terror.