Saturday, May 02, 2009


William Mehlman

The opacity of the Obama administration’s professed dedication to the safety and security of Israel becomes more pronounced with each passing week. Former U.S. ambassador Charles Freeman’s aborted appointment to the chairmanship of the president’s National Intelligence Council is history, but its reverberations refuse to subside. By now we all know why this appointment was aborted. The question that won’t go away is why it was ever made.

Given Freeman’s stellar performances riding shotgun for the Saudis and the Communist Chinese, even as the “goddess of democracy” was being systematically assaulted by their regimes, by what stretch of whose imagination was the ambassador deemed fit to be sifting national intelligence data, much less presiding over the process? “Don’t ask us,” could serve as a summation of the response of the President and his inner circle, their collective arms extended full length.

It was Freeman himself who let the cat out of the bag. Withdrawing his name from further consideration for the National Intelligence Council chairmanship, he issued what the Washington Post described as a “two-page screed “ in which he cast himself as the victim of an “Israeli lobby” whose “tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and which is “intent on forcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government. The aim of this lobby,” he continued, “is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of their views…and the exclusion of any and all options for decisions by Americans and our government, other than those that it favors.”

While never having been mistaken for a member of Israel’s “amen” corner, even the Washington Post found all this a bit much to bear. “Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel,” it declared in a March 12th editorial entitled “Peddling a Conspiracy Theory, “and his statement was a gross libel.” That the former ambassador feels the way he does about Israel is hardly news. He’s declared on more than one occasion that he thinks all of America’s problems with the Islamic world can be traced to its supposed open-ended support of the Jewish state. That Freeman thought he could predicate his withdrawal from the NIC nomination on an Israeli “conspiracy”, totally ignoring the furor he raised in Congress over his links to Saudi Arabia and China, says as much about the new atmosphere the Obama administration has brought to Washington as it does about himself.

Speaking to that subject in a recent Jerusalem Post column, Caroline Glick observed that “In the past, while anti-Israel politicians, policy makers and opinion shapers were accepted in Washington, they would not have felt comfortable brandishing their anti-Israel positions as qualifying credentials for high position. Freeman’s appointment showed that is no longer the case. Today in Washington there are powerful circles of political players for whom a person’s anti-Israel bona fides are his strongest suit.” Indeed, she goes on to note, Freeman’s defenders underscored his ambivalence toward Israel as their reason for defending him, even to the point of ignoring his assertion in one instance that America deserved the attacks launched upon it on September 11, 2001. “They felt the fact that he raised the hackles of Americans who support Israel,” she said, “was reason enough to support him. Whether his views on other issues are reasonable or not was of no interest to them.”

That they also seemed to be of little or no interest to the Obama people is clearly a cause for concern. Political toilet training being an incremental process, if the Freeman fiasco was an isolated matter, it might be passed off as one of those “accidents” that inevitably mark the crawling stages of every new administration in Washington. But there was nothing isolated about the Freeman appointment. It was illustrative of a pattern of highly questionable foreign policy appointments by this White House, bound by a common thread of antipathy toward Israel. Like that involving Freeman, some of the most controversial among them were not subject to Senate review and confirmation.

A Democratic controlled Senate might not have nixed the nominations of Samantha Power and Robert Malley to the National Security Council, but it would not have let them pass without some serious debate. Power, a Harvard genocide expert who served as one of Obama’s campaign advisors, is a product of the International Crisis Group, a think tank heavily funded by billionaire George Soros. Not surprisingly, it has made a specialty of bashing Israel. Power was part of the ICG directorate that voted to bestow its 2008 “Founders Award” on Soros, in acceptance of which the renowned arch-critic of Israel and all things Israeli praised it for its exemplary work on the “Palestine Question.” Power, who is heading up the National Security Council’s “Multilateral Institutions” section, stopped just short of accusing Israel of genocide for its 2002 Defensive Shield operation against Tanzim terrorists in Jenin, settling for a charge of “major human rights abuses.” But she has not been shy of suggesting the injection of U.S. military forces into Judea and Samaria to safeguard the “human rights” of the Palestinians.

Power doesn’t blanch at force majeure as an answer to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. With a heavy dollop of moral equivalence, she mused in a recent interview that “imposition of a solution on unwilling partners is dreadful. I mean it’s a terrible thing to do…but it’s essential that some set of principles becomes the benchmark, rather than a deterrence to people who are fundamentally politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people.”

Robert Malley, another horse out of the International Crisis Group stable, has been holding hands with Syrian dictator Bashir Assad since 2006. A former Clinton administration National Security Council honcho and key member of ICG’s Middle East policy team, he succeeded in winning for ICG a rare prize among American think tanks—an office in Damascus. Malley is believed to have been the mover behind Senator John Kerry’s February trip to Syria, highlighted by the senator’s effusive commendation of Assad, Hezbollah’s co-sponsor, for his valiant efforts on behalf of what turned out to be a still-born rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas. It was Malley who reportedly persuaded Obama to suspend further enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Syria and Malley who fired up the President’s enthusiasm for reopening the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, closed in February 2005 in response to Syria’s involvement in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Frederic Hof, Obama’s choice for the Damascus ambassadorial post, is a consummate Arabist (he once referred to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as “a cancer killing the Oslo Process”) and a protégé of George Mitchell, the President’s “Special Envoy” to the Middle East. Mitchell billed his initial pre-election visit to Israel as a “listening tour.” He was back in Jerusalem following the election and by all indications the “listening” is over. Still basking in the afterglow of the “Good Friday” peace agreement he cobbled together in Northern Ireland, one that has begun to fray around the edges, the former Maine Senator is convinced that there are no differences—political or territorial—that cannot be split . Among the first things he‘s given notice he wants to split away from Israel are its communities in the strategic hilltops of Judea and Samaria. He’s already made it known that the dismantling of those communities was promised to former president, George Bush by former prime minister Ehud Olmert. That promise, as Mitchell defines it, was not Olmert’s alone, but Israel’s and he fully expects the Netanyahu government to make good. Of course, a victory on this front will be seen as setting the stage for an even bigger split—the division of Jerusalem.

The celebrants of such an event would be almost certain to include Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. As mere “unofficial” advisors to the President, they fall well under the Senatorial confirmation radar but their animus toward the Jewish state, burnished to a fine polish over the years, is only too recognizable. Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Chief, shares a place with Samantha Power on the board of the International Crisis Group, a testament in itself to his feelings about Israel. They were on full display in his recent testimony on Iran before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he ridiculed Israel’s contention of an existential threat raised by Iran’s quest for an atomic bomb. America’s “nuclear umbrella,” he averred, furnished all the protection Israel needed, adding, in a transparent jab at the Jewish state, that “we should be very careful not to become susceptible to interested parties.”

Scowcroft, the most impassioned advocate of a hard line against Israel during his tenure as advisor to George H.W. Bush, is currently beating the drums for direct U.S. “engagement” with Hamas from his post as chairman of the international board of the U.S. Middle East Project. Co-created with one-time American Jewish Congress chairman Henry Siegman, the board, including seven Arab members, is a loud voice in favor of imposing a Fatah/Hamas regime on Israel in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. In a Washington Post op-ed last fall, Scowcroft opined that resolving the “Palestinian issue” would “liberate Arab governments to support U.S. leadership in dealing with regional problems” as well as “dissipate much of the appeal of Hezbollah and Hamas, dependent as it is, on the Palestinians’ plight.”

While his language is more elegant and his views marginally less radical, Scowcroft’s rumored possible replacement of Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council amounts to a distinction without a great deal of difference. In his February testimony, he implored the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not to take its eyes off the Palestinian ball. “The main gist,” he told the Senators, “is that you need to push hard on the Palestinian peace process. Don’t move it to the end of your agenda and say you have too much to do. And the United States needs to have a position, not just to hold their coats.” Vis-a-vis the Iranian threat, Scowcroft said he was primarily concerned with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran precipitating a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. As far as Israel was concerned, he saw no reason to dissent from Brzezinski’s view that its fears were overblown.

You won’t catch Obama’s National Security Director, General James Jones (USMC, Ret.), taking large exception to that sentiment. That much was obvious in the embarrassing wake of IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s March 17th trip to Washington to review fresh intelligence related to Iran’s threat to his nation’s existence. The sound of doors slamming in his face could have been heard all the way back to the Hakiriyah in Tel Aviv. Though appointments were scheduled well in advance, Defense Secretary Gates, Vice President Biden, National Intelligence Chief Blair and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mullen, Ashkenazi’s military counterpart, all found they had more important things to do. Jones, the former Marine commandant, was the only administration policy maker who had any time for him and he made it clear from the get-go that Iran was not a subject he cared to discuss. Sources in Washington report that virtually the entire session was taken up with American demands that Israel lift further security restrictions on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the words of one diplomat, “the [Obama] administration was sending a very clear message to Israel, and that is ‘we want to talk about Palestine and not Iran.’”

Finally, there is Susan Rice, the administration’s ambassador to the United Nations. A Brookings Institution Senior Fellow, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during Bill Clinton’s second term, Oxford Rhodes Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford, daughter of a Cornell University economics professor and Federal Reserve System governor, Rice was ticketed for the political stratosphere from the day she was elected president of the student council at Washington’s exclusive National Cathedral High School. As chief torch bearer for “engagenomics,” Barack Obama’s chosen foreign policy wand, she could not have made landfall in a more suitable venue than Turtle Bay.

Rice does not intend to disappoint. Her first act, barely a month after Senate confirmation, was to announce that the U.S. would contend for a seat on the UN’s “Human Rights Council,” the same “ragtag” retailer of anti-Israel snake oil from which John Bolton, George Bush’s UN representative, disengaged the U.S. in 2006, deeming any further association with an organization responsible for 26 condemnations of Israel over the previous three-years as “legitimizing something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.”

Ambassador Rice and her boss think otherwise. While describing the Human Rights Council’s record as “disturbing” (“Yes, of course we mean Israel,” she responded to a reporter’s request for clarification), she apparently didn’t find it disturbing enough to preclude America’s bid for reentry. “We do not see any inherent benefit, as demonstrated by recent history, in being outside the tent and simply being critical,” she told reporters at a news conference following the announcement. She coldly dismissed the argument put forth by the Republican Jewish Coalition and Florida Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House International Affairs Committee, that in failing to condition America’s return to the UN body on substantive structural reforms, including the barring from its deliberations of human rights violators like Libya and Zimbabwe, the United States was throwing its diplomatic leverage to the four winds. “We don’t view engagement or diplomacy as a reward, “ she replied. ”It’s a tool to advance our interests.”

In the kind of mortifying post script to the affair that occasionally causes even its most fervent supporters to wonder why they stick their necks out for the Jewish state, the Republican Jewish Coalition and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen wound up with egg on their faces when Aharon Leshno Yaar, Israel’s Geneva-based UN representative, joined with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a host of leftist and notably anti-Israel “human rights” floggers in welcoming America’s projected return to the Council as a “concrete embodiment of the U.S. commitment to a new era of engagement.” One hopes that the Netanyahu government’s replacement of Mr. Leshno Yaar in Geneva becomes an early order of business.

In a sobering assessment of the new Obama era of U.S-Israel relations, British author and journalist Melanie Phillips commented that the “Israel bashers and Jew-haters with whom [Obama] has surrounded himself, aided and abetted by new realist appeasers and (often Jewish) useful idiots…” have only succeeded in “pursuing with far greater ferocity the change in strategy that was already apparent when George W. Bush became fatally weakened—forcing Israel to sacrifice its security, all for the illusory goal of a Palestinian state that would almost certainly become yet another proxy for Iran and which, far from helping defang the Middle East, would result instead in regional instability and yet more terrible war.”

That the West, as she predicts, “will be next if Obama succeeds in throwing Israel under the bus,” has notably failed to cut any ice with Scowcroft and the other “realists,” who have been driving this agenda, “including,” Phillips adds, “those who wish Israel would just vanish off the face of the earth.” That puts the ball squarely in the court of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud-led coalition. It is a collection of ill-fitting parts, but somehow the new prime minister will have to find the key to making it work, if Israel is to have any chance of prevailing over the terrible hand it’s been dealt.

*The author represents AFSI in Israel and is co-editor of the Jerusalem-based internet magazine ZionNet (

Posted by Ruth at 10:11 PM | OUTPOST

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