The Missing Guest from the 2007 Bahamas Conference

August 10th, 2009

By Eli Clifton

Retired Air Force General Charles “Chuck” Wald’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is worth a read for followers of LobeLog and the neocon ‘’echo chamber’’. Wald was one of the invited speakers at the ‘’Confronting The Iranian Threat: The Way Forward’’ event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in 2007.

We broke the story (here on LobeLog) about the off-the-record conference and got mentioned (although not by name) by Bret Stephens in his Wall Street Journal column as ”internet sleuths’’ who, ”…might have been disappointed to find that nothing by way of bombing coordinates for the pending attack on Iran’s nuclear installations were presented.’’

The event did include a panel discussion, “Meet FDD’s Experts Beachside” reception; to wit:

o “Military Response
o What policy options are on the table for slowing Iran’s nuclear development?
o Is there a military option that would end the development of the nuclear program?
o What type of response capabilities does the U.S. and its allies have if Iran were to employ the use of a nuclear weapon?”

In response we wrote:

”Charles “Chuck” Wald, who is listed on the program as a “speaker” on this panel did not actually make it to the conference, and he was the only person listed on the program with real military expertise. Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), was the air component commander based at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia in charge of planning and deploying U.S. air power in the run-up to and during the U.S. military campaign that ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, according to the Washington Post’s Bill Arkin. Although Wald is now much more interested in the national-security aspects of global warming and climate change, his views on air power and precision strikes against possible nuclear and military targets in Iran would obviously be relevant to the session’s agenda.’’

Wald’s article—”There Is a Military Option on Iran: U.S. Air Force and Naval forces could do serious damage to Tehran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fail’’—yesterday certainly suggests that he is actively picking out military targets and strategizing contingency plans for an attack on Iran.
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J.J. Goldberg Disappoints

August 10th, 2009

By Daniel Luban

Former Forward editor in chief J.J. Goldberg has a fairly positive reputation among progressive Jews, and although he has never been a radical about Israel or the Middle East, neither is he a reflexive hawk or neoconservative. Hence it is particularly disappointing to read his recent hit piece on Roger Cohen in the Forward, a piece that is long on condescension and sanctimony but short on any real engagement with the issues. Goldberg’s thesis is that Cohen is cynical, or naive, or both — that his writing on Iran has been motivated fundamentally by a careerist desire to “sound provocative,” but that he is an amateur “in over his head.” It is not clear whether this analysis applies equally to anyone else fighting back against the alarmism of the “bomb Iran” crowd. Does he feel that Cohen’s anatagonists — the Abe Foxmans and Jeffrey Goldbergs of the world — are models of subtlety and expertise? Last I checked Foxman was defending East Jerusalem settlements and (Jeffrey) Goldberg was arguing that Iran is the new Amalek.

I won’t try to respond to (J.J.) Goldberg’s arguments, principally because he does not see fit to make many actual arguments as opposed to ad hominem dismissals. I would, however, just like to highlight one passage that was immediately picked up by some of the usual suspects, in which he discusses Cohen’s treatment of Obama Middle East advisor Dennis Ross, known as the administration’s foremost Iran hawk:

Ross’s role in the administration raises many questions in Cohen’s mind, but the one that comes up over and over throughout the article, “a recurrent issue with Ross, who embraced his Jewish faith after being raised in a non-religious home by a Jewish mother and a Catholic stepfather, has been whether he is too close to the American Jewish community and Israel to be an honest broker with Iran or Arabs.” In the crisis atmosphere following the Iranian election, “Can this baggage-encumbered veteran… overcome ingrained habits and sympathies?” Indeed, “Will the Iranians be prepared to meet with Ross?” — a “reasonable question given Ross’s well-known ties with the American Jewish community.”

That, in effect, is the dilemma facing American policy toward Iran at this pivotal moment: Is there too much Jewish influence? We’ve heard the question before in Hamas sermons, in Al Qaeda videos and on some left-wing blogs. Now it’s been incorporated into the nation’s newspaper of record.

Of course, Roger Cohen is far from the first person to question whether Dennis Ross is too closely associated with Israel to be an effective Middle East policymaker. It was Aaron David Miller, Ross’s former colleague on the Clinton administration peace process team, who famously claimed that the U.S. had been acting as “Israel’s lawyer” under Ross’s leadership. Another Clinton administration colleague, former ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer, published a book containing complaints from both American and Arab participants in the peace process that Ross was “biased towards Israel and not ‘an honest broker’” (as Time magazine put it).

Are Aaron David Miller and Dan Kurtzer fomenting propaganda cribbed from “Hamas sermons” and “al Qaeda videos”? Could Miller and Kurtzer be closet al Qaeda sympathizers? Goldberg is off in Commentary/ZOA territory here, and it is beneath him.

Where Dick Morris Breaks with Reality

August 10th, 2009

By Eli Clifton and Daniel Luban

On Friday former Clinton adviser Dick Morris published an article in the New York Post–titled Where Bam Breaks with Reality–claiming that a new poll found that 52-percent of Jewish Democrats agree with the ”Israeli government view” that, ”the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel and that giving them a nation of their own will just make them stronger,” while only 20-percent agreed with the ”Obama view” that, ””if Israel could settle its dispute with the Palestinian refugees and give them a nation of their own, that the Arabs would live in peace with Israel.”

These findings (along with other similar statistics purporting to show Jewish Democrats’ deep skepticism about the peace process) come in stark contrast to most other polling of American Jewish attitudes. In March 2009, for instance, J Street found that American Jews as a whole support a two-state solution by the overwhelming margin of 76 to 24 percent, and that they also approve overwhelmingly of Barack Obama. Since the J Street poll measured American Jews as a whole (both Democrats and Republicans) one would expect this support to increase once only Democrats are polled.

Morris’s jarring data, however, begin to make sense once we look at the background to the poll. The sponsors of the poll—The Traditional Values Coalition—have a history of conducting questionable research and have a clear political agenda.

The Coalition’s recent reports have included: The Homosexual Movement And Pedophilia; Causes and Cures Of Homosexuality And Gender Identity Disorders; and Planned Parenthood’s Child Molester Cover Up EXPOSED!.

The actual pollster—Global Marketing Research Services—has its own shady track record. Read the rest of this entry »

An offer they can’t refuse?

August 7th, 2009

By Eli Clifton

In a new film—released both on DVD and Youtube–Jimmy Carter, James A. Baker, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski make the case that it is time for the Obama administration to put forward a conflict-ending resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The senior statesmen make the case that a U.S. plan will not address all Israeli or Palestinian interests, but that if the U.S. exerts leadership and its allies support the plan, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians will see the opportunity for a genuine and long-lasting peace.

The Foundation for Middle East Peace supported the production of the film–New Hope for Peace: What America Must do to end the Israel-Palestine Conflict–and described its release as coming ”at a time when the Obama administration and Mitchell risk repeating another failed ‘peace process’ by pushing interim ‘confidence-building’ measures like a settlement freeze and goodwill gestures by Arab governments which are not making much progress.”

At a time when the Netanyahu government and its allies in the U.S. have urged the Obama administration to back off its push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, this bipartisan intervention by four elder statesmen demonstrates that there is still a strong constituency within the foreign policy establishment for aggressive U.S. leadership in the peace process.

Carter, Baker, Scowcroft and Brzezinski argue that a U.S. led plan which supports Israel’s right to exist, engages Hamas and Palestinian leadership, and provides a clear road map based on “land for peace” would be pivotal in winning over the majority of Israelis and Palestinians as well as gaining the support of Arab regional partners and allies around the world.

Although perhaps overly simplistic—which is unavoidable in a twenty minute film—it give one pause to think about what would happen if the US proposed a comprehensive plan for a two-state-solution which the rest of the world could support. Would Israel or the Palestinians be able to resist such an offer?

The Wiesenthal Center’s Peculiar Brand of “Tolerance”

August 3rd, 2009

By Eli Clifton

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has been attracting negative publicity over the past several months for an event hosted at its LA museum and concerns that their Jerusalem museum is being built on an Islamic cemetery.

In May, the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance hosted a screening of the controversial documentary The Third Jihad which purports to discuss a recently discovered document which outlines how Muslims are intent on systematically dismantling western democratic institutions and imposing Shariah law in the United States. I have previously blogged about the striking similarities between this film and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and, with my colleagues, Daniel Luban and Ali Gharib have written several articles about the producers and distributors of the film. Here, and here.

The screening was co-hosted by the American Freedom Alliance who, as pointed out on Tikun Olam, “promotes networking, activism and education” in the following areas:

“* The Islamic penetration of Europe
* The collapse of academic freedom
* The identification and sources of media bias
* The growth of radical environmentalism
* The necessity for missile defense
* The dangers presented by the global governance movement”

While the Museum of Tolerance’s decision to screen such a divisive and explicitly anti-Muslim film certainly calls into question the sincerity of their commitment to “…prevent hatred and genocide from occurring to any group now and in the future,” news of their desecration of an Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem starts to paint a more consistent picture of an organization which has little interest in furthering understanding between Muslims and Jews in either the US or Israel.
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NIAC: Why Iran Hawks Are Pushing Engagement

August 3rd, 2009

By Daniel Luban

Andrew Sullivan picks up on this piece from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) blog that came out Friday; it’s one of the better (and most concise) analyses of the state of the Iran debate in Washington that I’ve seen. NIAC notes that roles have seemingly reversed since Iran’s election crisis began: former proponents of engagement (such as Roger Cohen and NIAC’s own Trita Parsi) are now calling for a pause in the engagement strategy while the clash between reformists and hardliners plays itself out, while many hawks who were previously engagement skeptics are calling for negotiations to move full speed ahead — and end abruptly if they do not bear immediate fruit.

(If there’s one point I would take issue with in the piece, it’s the notion that this is somehow a sudden “role reversal” for the hawks. On the contrary, since Obama’s victory most hawks have been more than willing to pay lip service to the engagement idea, all while setting an absurdly short deadline for ending negotiations and moving to sanctions. For those in the Dennis Ross school of diplomacy, a half-hearted and perfunctory stab at engagement is useful precisely because it allows the U.S. to claim that it has “tried everything else” when it moves to sanctions or military force.)

What are the stakes of this conflict? NIAC summarizes:

The perma-skeptics of diplomacy think we should impose an artificial deadline, rush to engage, and then run headlong into Iran’s political paralysis. Their plan would have us miss the deadline, sanction Iran as much as possible, and then lobby for the U.S. to bomb Iran when sanctions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Of course, this is an incredibly foolish “solution.” As every Iran expert worth their salt has noted, bombing Iran is perhaps the only thing that can cement this government’s hold on power indefinitely into the future.

With Israel’s head of intelligence publicly saying Iran won’t be able to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon until 2014 at the earliest, the U.S. can and should wait for the right time to engage.

IPS’s Ali Gharib also had a good analysis of the state of the Iran debate last week which examines these issues in more depth.

[Cross-posted at The Faster Times.]

Andy McCarthy Strikes Again

July 30th, 2009

By Daniel Luban

The editors of National Review appear to have made a tactical decision that the “birthers” — those who allege that Barack Obama was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii, thereby questioning his U.S. citizenship and legitimacy as president — were serving only to discredit the right in the eyes of the general public. On Tuesday, the magazine published an editorial denouncing the birthers and attempting to put the whole controversy to rest once and for all.

However, the magazine’s own Andy McCarthy didn’t seem to get the memo. On Thursday, he published a long article taking issue with NR’s editorial. While conceding the craziness of the allegation that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate was a fake, McCarthy raised a host of new allegations against the president. These include, in no particular order: that Obama was secretly adopted by his mother’s second husband; that he was a secret Muslim in his youth (although McCarthy concedes that he is now a “professed” Christian); that he was (and remains) an Indonesian citizen; that he made a “mysterious” trip to Pakistan in his youth; that he intervened in the 2006 Kenyan election in an attempt to install “a Marxist now known to have made a secret agreement with Islamists to convert Kenya to sharia law”; finally, that his pitching abilities mark him as “something less than Sandy Koufax.”

Perhaps sensing that McCarthy’s allegations were likely to further discredit Obama’s opponents, National Review Online’s Kevin Williamson felt compelled to step in, writing that he was “not much in love with Brother Andy’s piece” and accusing McCarthy of throwing in his lot with “kooks” engaging in “intemperate, paranoid, hysterical speculation.” This marks the third time in recent months that McCarthy’s NRO colleagues have been forced to reprimand him for paranoid conspiracy-mongering about Obama: first, for his October 2008 suggestion that Bill Ayers was the real author of Dreams From My Father, and more recently for his accusation that Obama’s cautious response to the post-election protests in Iran was motivated by a deep ideological sympathy for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

It is somewhat remarkable that McCarthy remains one of the right’s go-to commentators on legal issues relating to the “war on terror.” Coming on the heels of Frank Gaffney’s recent op-ed suggesting that Obama remains a secret Muslim, McCarthy’s latest opus is a reminder that the National Review editors might have a hard time purging their movement of anti-Obama kooks. By all indications, a significant number of far-from-marginal right-wing figures have been terminally unhinged by Obama, and getting rid of the birthers is likely to be more difficult than simply ignoring a few obscure bloggers.

How Roger Cohen Became the Most Important Jewish Journalist in America

July 28th, 2009

By Daniel Luban

Roger Cohen, columnist for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times, has a new piece in The New York Review of Books on the ongoing crisis in Iran. Like his previous writings on the subject over the last six weeks, it is essential reading — sharply analytical but at the same time deeply emotional, seething with barely concealed anger.

Its conclusions will be familiar to those who have read Cohen’s columns during the post-election crisis that began on June 12: Iran’s election was in all likelihood stolen, even if there was no decisive smoking gun. In the wake of the regime’s repression of demonstrators, large numbers of Iranians “have moved from reluctant acquiescence to a system over which they believed they had some limited, quadrennial influence into outright opposition to a regime they now view with undiluted contempt.” But now the Obama administration finds itself in a bind. Engagement with Tehran threatens to legitimize the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in its moment of weakness; on the other hand, the strategy of confrontation and military force — which American and Israeli hawks have opportunistically used the crisis to push — is even more certain to solidify the regime’s hold on power. Thus, the imperative for the moment is to stand back and let the regime twist in the wind.

The NYRB piece caps what has been a remarkable seven months for Cohen. At the beginning of 2009, he was a generally well-regarded but seemingly standard-issue liberal hawk, superficially indistinguishable in worldview from any number of similar pundits at the Times or Post or New Republic. By the time of the Iranian elections in June, he had become something else — liberal hawkery’s most prominent apostate, the most eloquent critic of the Gaza war and proponent of engagement with Iran, and, as Philip Weiss suggests, the most important Jewish journalist in America (though Cohen himself is British-born).

To call him America’s most important Jewish journalist is not to say that there are no Jewish journalists who are more influential or widely read (fellow Times columnists Paul Krugman and David Brooks come to mind on this score), but rather that there are none who are currently more important on the central issues of Jewish identity and Jewish power — which, at the present moment, means the crucial triangle of America, Israel, and Iran. If the Bush years were defined by neoconservatives like William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer on the one hand, and liberal hawks like Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg on the other — the bipartisan coalition that brought us the Iraq war — it is Cohen who seems to have his finger on the zeitgeist at the beginning of the Obama presidency. It is therefore worth examining his journey. Read the rest of this entry »

Conference of Presidents Parrots Avigdor Lieberman

July 24th, 2009

By Daniel Luban

On Wednesday, Ha’aretz reported on the Netanyahu government’s latest spin in its clash with the U.S. and the international community over planned settlement construction in East Jerusalem: change the subject to the Nazis.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered diplomats to use an old photograph of a former Palestinian religious leader meeting Adolf Hitler to counter world criticism of a Jewish building plan for East Jerusalem.

Israeli officials said on Wednesday that Lieberman told Israeli ambassadors to circulate the 1941 shot in Berlin of the Nazi leader seated next to Haj Amin al-Husseini, the late mufti or top Muslim religious leader in Jerusalem.

One official said Lieberman, an ultranationalist, hoped the photo would “embarrass” Western countries into ceasing to demand that Israel halt the project on land owned by the mufti’s family in a predominantly Arab neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.

Lieberman’s transparent attempt to divert attention from the East Jerusalem controversy was widely derided across the political spectrum. It is, of course, a complete non sequitur — why would the mufti’s Nazi ties have anything to do with the status of Jerusalem under a peace deal? (Al-Husseini died in 1974.) As with Netanyahu’s implied accusation that Obama wants to make the West Bank “Judenrein,” the operative political strategy seems to be “when in doubt, bring up the Nazis.” Even among hardliners, few seemed inclined to take Lieberman’s ploy seriously.

Few, that is, except for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the powerful and hardline Washington group whose policies generally track those of the Israeli right. Earlier this week, Conference of Presidents chairman Alan Solow and executive vice-president Malcolm Hoenlein issued a statement defending Netanyahu and calling the Obama administration’s objections to the proposed building project “disturbing”. It included this key paragraph:

It is particularly significant that the structure in question formerly was the house of the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseni who spent the war years in Berlin as a close ally of Hitler, aiding and abetting the Nazi extermination of Jews. He was also linked to the 1929 massacre in Hebron and other acts of incitement that resulted in deaths and destruction in what was then Palestine. There has been an expressed desire by some Palestinians to preserve the building as a tribute to Husseini.

The Conference of Presidents is perfectly free to side with Netanyahu over the U.S. government if they so desire — although in that case they should stop claiming to speak for all their member organizations, not all of which agree with their pro-settlement stance. But regardless, shouldn’t the group at least make an effort to pretend that it isn’t cribbing its talking points straight from Avigdor Lieberman?

[Cross-posted at The Faster Times.]

Bibi’s Blindness

July 21st, 2009

By Daniel Luban

Israel has a history of tactical victories that ultimately proved to be strategic defeats. The classic example is the sweeping victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, a triumph that set the stage for four decades of occupation and currently threatens Israel’s identity as a Jewish democratic state. But other examples abound; whether in Lebanon in the 1980s or Gaza this past winter, the undeniable tactical prowess of the Israeli military has often not been matched by a similar degree of strategic acumen or political foresight on the part of its leaders.

I was reminded of this history by Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent rejection of the Obama administration’s request to halt settlement construction in East Jerusalem, with the Israeli prime minister declaring that Israeli sovereignty over a “united Jerusalem…cannot be challenged.” Netanyahu’s proclamation was the latest salvo in what has become an outright clash with Obama on the settlement issue. The Israeli government has joined this diplomatic battle with gusto, refusing to make any real concessions while sharply escalating its rhetorical attacks on the Obama administration in the press. But the Netanyahu government’s behavior during the settlements battle seems to reflect — albeit in a political rather than a military context — this pattern of short-term tactical maximalism at the expense of long-term strategic vision. For although the rather impressive torrent of evasions, euphemisms, distortions, and slanders being produced by Netanyahu and his supporters may prove immediately useful in avoiding action on the settlements, in the process they are throwing into question Israel’s most valuable strategic asset — the support it enjoys from the U.S. and the American Jewish community. Even if Netanyahu emerges victorious in the settlements battle, he will likely be setting his country up for yet another Pyrrhic victory. Read the rest of this entry »