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Administration Sources to John Kerry:
Give It Up, Man.



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From the final Morning Jolt of the week:

Administration Sources to John Kerry: Give It Up, Man.

When something like this ends up on the front page of the Washington Post, it’s a sign somebody is trying to send a signal to our secretary of state:

When his aides get discouraged about the prospects for Middle East peace, Secretary of State John F. Kerry often bucks them up with a phrase: “Don’t be afraid to be caught trying.”

But as his tireless efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations hit bottom Thursday, with Israel’s cancellation of prisoner releases that were considered crucial to keeping the talks alive, there are some around Kerry — including on his senior staff and inside the White House — who believe the time is approaching for him to say, “Enough.”

Kerry risks being seen as trying too hard at the expense of a range of other pressing international issues, and perhaps even his reputation, according to several senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about sensitive internal and diplomatic matters.

“A point will come where he has to go out and own the failure,” an official said. For now, the official said, Kerry needs to “lower the volume and see how things unfold.”

As I noted, we somehow reached a point in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations where we, the United States, needed to make concessions just to keep them talking. Many have argued, accurately, that no peace deal will ever work if we want it to succeed more than the Israelis and Palestinians do. The primary stumbling block to a negotiated settlement is that a big chunk of the Palestinian population wants Israel to cease to exist, and the Israelis, unsurprisingly, refuse to go along with that. Yes, the Israelis periodically build settlements in places that the Palestinians don’t like, and that always turns into the Middle East version of kicking a hornet’s nest.

Jeffrey Goldberg offers a very kind and generous interpretation of Kerry’s entire grandiose, quixotic effort:

President Barack Obama’s administration, and specifically its secretary of state, deserve credit for maintaining the belief — in a very American, very solutionist sort of way — that the application of logic and good sense and creative thinking could bring about, over time, a two-state solution to the 100-year Arab-Jewish war . . . 

This week, we saw the administration float the idea of releasing Jonathan Pollard, the ex-U.S. Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, in exchange for some Israeli movement on the peace process. As I wrote on Monday, this was both a dubious idea generally and extremely unlikely to bring about advances in negotiations. If anything, it was a sign of desperation. As Andrew Exum and others have noted, why would the mediator in a dispute make concessions to one of the parties seeking mediation? It’s up to the parties to make concessions to each other. Obama has argued that the U.S. can’t want a peaceful compromise between Israelis and Palestinians more than the parties want it themselves. The Pollard balloon (now punctured, presumably) suggests Kerry wants a negotiated settlement just a bit too much.

Goldberg concludes by asking, “really, how can we blame a man for seeking peace?”

American foreign policy can’t just be based upon noble goals — or idealistic visions, grand dreams, noble ambitions, utopian goals and a serious lust for a Nobel Peace Prize. A secretary of state has to have some judgment on what’s possible, a realistic sense of what our allies, enemies, and states in between want, what they’re willing to accept, and what they’re willing to kill and die for.

To use an example our friends on the Left will appreciate, the Bush administration had very noble goals when it went into Iraq. It had an inspiring vision of a free, democratic, pluralistic, modernized Arab state in the middle of a turbulent region, at peace with its neighbors and providing a role model for the rest of the region. Obviously, things didn’t turn out the way we hoped. Very bright people in the Bush administration misjudged how the various factions within Iraq would respond to life without the brutality of Saddam Hussein.

Foreign leaders’ worldviews, philosophies, perspectives and desires matter a lot.

Which is why it’s a little unnerving to hear President Obama say something like this:

With respect to President Putin’s motivation, I think there’s been a lot of speculation. I’m less interested in motivation and more interested in the facts and the principles that not only the United States but the entire international community are looking to uphold.

If we knew and understood his motivation — perhaps to reverse the humiliation of losing the Cold War, and leave a world-altering legacy of a restored de facto Russian empire, with satellite or client states all over Eastern Europe? — it would be easier to deter him and predict his next moves, wouldn’t it?

Ron Fournier:

Taken at face value, it’s a disturbing response from a world leader who should lie awake at night concerned about the motivation of U.S. adversaries, whose first meeting of every day involves an intelligence briefing on the motivations of global actors . . . 

I take him at his word: He doesn’t care.

First, his handling of leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, China and most recently Russia exposes a lack of empathy and sophistication…

. . . Caring little about the motivation of his rivals seems to be a trait of Obama’s leadership that has hurt him in Congress, where the opposition party is stubbornly opposed to his agenda . . . 

Putin knows his enemies. Obama dismisses his.

A painfully accurate assessment there, that almost everyone in the administration will tune out.

Tags: John Kerry , Barack Obama , Israel , Russia , Vladimir Putin

Christie and Israel



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A small but significant event took place on March 29 at the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. Hosted by Sheldon Adelson, the mega-donor to Republican presidential campaigns, the event drew four leading potential candidates for president in 2016, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

In the Q&A session, Christie recounted a trip he took with the RJC to Israel in 2012. In the course of a choppy sentence in which he expressed his admiration for the country, he used the term “occupied territories” to refer to the West Bank: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across . . . and just felt, personally, how extraordinary that was, to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

 

 

That term caused a stir in the audience. As Christie left the venue, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, confronted him in a hallway: “Governor Christie, you used an inaccurate and erroneous term.” Klein tells me that he explained to Christie that Jordan lacked recognized control of the territory and that Jews have greater rights to it than Arabs. He concluded by requesting that Christie not use “occupied territories” in the future but rather “Judea and Samaria,” “West Bank,” or “disputed territories.”

Christie replied, “Yeah, I saw you shaking your head when I used that term.” Klein acknowledged that he had, indeed, shaken his head and again asked if Christie would use a different formulation. Christie rebuffed him a second time, saying, “Yeah, I saw you shaking your head,” and walked off.

Soon after, Christie met privately with Adelson. We have two published accounts of that conversation. Kevin Bohn of CNN writes:

Christie said “I misspoke,” according to Andy Abboud, senior vice president of Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. Abboud, who also attended the session, told CNN that Christie said “I don’t believe that,” referring to the view that the West Bank is occupied by Israel. . . . “They had a nice meeting,” Abboud told CNN.

Politico’s Kenneth Vogel has a similar account:

Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.” Instead, . . . Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.” Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation.

To confirm these accounts, I asked Andy Abboud specifically whether Christie apologized. “Governor Christie did not apologize,” Abhoud replied. “He said he misspoke and regretted that he misspoke. It was very matter-of-fact. He did not come crawling in but noted that a lot of people use that term. Then they moved on. It was not a big deal.”

In other words, Christie acknowledged that he “misspoke” and distanced himself from the offending phrase, saying it was not “a statement of policy.” But he did not retract his use of the term “occupied territories” or promise not to use it again. Much less did he apologize using it in the first place. In other words, Christie withdrew tactically but still sees the West Bank as occupied territory.

I draw two conclusions from this little incident.

First, beware journalistic spin. Politico inaccurately headlined its report “Chris Christie apologizes for ‘occupied territories’ remark” and many other media — such as the Daily Mail, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — based their coverage on this summary. Reporting that Christie abjectly apologized to Adelson, they then drew grand but unfounded conclusions about the commanding role of money in American politics.

In other words, the media provide accurate facts but present them as it suits their agenda. The savvy consumer reads between the lines, as though he were consuming Pravda, and draws his own conclusions.

Second, Christie’s scornful non-response to Klein contrasts dramatically with his retreat before Adelson and provides important insights. His inconsistency points to the governor’s true views (which do not bode well for Israel) and to the content of his character.

With someone he encountered in the hallway, he showed disdain; with the largest political donor in American history, he mouthed what was minimally required from him. This is the politician reputed to “tell it like it is”? No, Christie bullies those less powerful and sucks up to those he needs.

He must not become the Republican nominee for president.

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.

Tags: Israel

Chuck Hagel, the Conditional Secretary of Defense?



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One simple question for the upcoming Hagel hearings: would a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel be willing to order U.S. forces to either assist Israel in a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, or order U.S. forces to execute that strike directly?

(I foresee in the comments section many folks arguing the merits of the idea, but the point is separate from that debate; the point is whether or not Hagel is able to enact options that the president himself has repeatedly stated are “on the table.” Or is the president announcing, with Hagel, that those options are no longer on the table?)

If the answer to either of those is “no” – that Hagel’s conscience and personal policy beliefs mean he could not, in good conscience, give either of those orders, and that he would resign rather than carry out an order from the president to do that — then we have a Secretary of Defense who is going to have to be replaced in the event of a crisis along these lines. It’s a bad idea to have a Secretary of Defense who can only serve the president as long as the president forecloses certain already-discussed options.

Tags: Barack Obama , Arab Spring , Iran , Israel

Jewish Voters to Hear of Netanyahu’s ‘Red Line’ Criticism



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SecureAmericaNow.org is sending this message to “about a million” Jewish voters today:

The message is direct:

Prime Minister Netanyahu is fighting for the very survival of the Jewish State: “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

But Obama responded, “NO red lines”for Iran. Then, president Obama refused to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu but invited Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi to the United States.

Click here to sign the petition and tell President Obama to STAND WITH ISRAEL.

Plenty of folks who study the Jewish vote in U.S. elections point out that American Jews have more concerns than just the state of Israel. But when the security of Israel seems particularly perilous — an Iranian nuclear program continuing to grow, neighboring Syria descending into chaos with a hostile ruler increasingly desperate and willing to threaten the unthinkable, and of course, now neighboring Egypt’s new rulers taking a distinctly anti-Western, anti-American turn . . . maybe Jewish voters’ hierarchy of priorities shifts a bit.

Tags: Barack Obama , Iran , Israel

President Obama, Israel’s Slap-Happy Older Brother



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In the Morning Jolt:

I suppose we should give reporter John Heilemann credit for observing that Obama is considered not only not Jewish (duh) but anti-Israel. (I mean, heck, throw in the Jeremiah Wright’s comment that “them Jews” wouldn’t let him talk to Obama, and many would find it hard to believe Obama never heard an anti-Semitic comment from Wright and similarly hard to believe Obama would object at the time.)

He writes:

Obama’s people deny up and down that the loss of a seat last occupied by Anthony Weiner portends, well, pretty much anything for 2012. But the truth is that they are worried, and worried they should be, for the signs of Obama’s slippage among Jewish voters are unmistakable. Last week, a new Gallup poll found that his approval rating in that cohort had fallen to 55 percent—a whopping 28-point drop since his inauguration. And among the high-dollar Jewish donors who were essential to fueling the great Obama money machine last time around, stories of dismay and disaffection are legion. “There’s no question,” says one of the president’s most prolific fund-raisers. “We have a big-time Jewish problem.”

In a way, history has been cruel to Obama, forcing him to succeed the wrong Bush—the one whose support for Israel, unlike that of his father, was uncritical to the point of blindness. Obama’s team has made its share of errors in the conduct of its diplomacy and in allowing misperceptions to take hold: that its tough-love approach to Israel has been all the former and none of the latter; that its demands on the Palestinians have been either negligible or nonexistent. And many Jewish voters, like those Wall Street financiers (and, to be sure, the overlap between those groups isn’t trivial) who flocked to Obama and were then chagrined when he called them out as “fat cats,” have all too often focused more on the president’s words than his deeds—and come away with the impression that he doesn’t seem to “feel Israel” in his bones.

I think my favorite metaphor in the piece was Heilemann’s declaration that “[Obama’s] role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up.”

Get that, Israel? It’s not that Obama doesn’t like you; it’s that he thinks you’re drunk and he’s slapping you, that’s all. Of course, if the brother isn’t drunk, you’re just slapping him and irritating him and impeding him from whatever he’s trying to do — say, defend himself from hostile neighbors all around him.

Dina Fraioli is . . . not a fan of the article’s argument: “I’m sick to my stomach.”

Stephen Green writes, “It’s safe to say that Jewish voters — and Jewish donors — won’t come out in force in 2012 like they did in for Obama in 2008 . . . The New York cover is just the first of many attempts by the Complicit Media and the White House to shore up the Jewish vote. It remains to be seen if it will work.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Israel

Blair: Obama’s Motivated by Fear for Israel’s Future



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An interesting assessment from Tony Blair, a man whose opinion I generally respect:

Middle East envoy Tony Blair said Thursday that he believes President Barack Obama launched his peace initiative out of concern for what might happen to Israel if Palestinian statehood is endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly.

Speaking to an audience of Middle East-focused business leaders at London’s Royal Institution, the former British prime minister said that Obama was “frankly worried about the position that Israel is in.”

Blair described Obama’s initiative — rejected by Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu — as “an attempt to fill a vacuum which he sees as dangerous, particularly dangerous for Israel in the run-up to September,” when the assembly is expected to take up the issue of Palestinian statehood during the U.N.’s annual meeting.

Such a vote would be potentially damaging for the United States and Israel. Although the move is largely symbolic — the U.S. can veto any such move in the Security Council — a lopsided vote in the General Assembly would leave Washington looking isolated while rallying anti-Israel sentiment in Europe and elsewhere.

Here’s the problem with Blair’s argument that Obama is pushing the 1967-borders-with-swaps plan out of a concern for the long-term safety of Israel: In order to avoid the symbolic problem of a lopsided United Nations vote — and let’s face it, it’s more of a problem for the United States than for Israel; the Israelis are used to being the world’s punching bag at the U.N. — Obama is pushing a tangible security problem.

(A lopsided vote isn’t even that much of a problem to Americans who view the United Nations as a collection of “humanitarian money-launderers, peacekeeper-rapists and a human rights commission that looks like a lifetime-achievement awards ceremony for the world’s torturers,” as Mark Steyn put it.)

The Jerusalem Center offers a video argument that the 1967 borders leave Israel effectively defenseless:

Why does a U.N. vote make Obama worry about Israel’s future, but not a plan that leaves our ally vulnerable to rocket attacks on Tel Aviv airport, gunfire on Israel’s highways, an air-defense system that can’t stop incoming bombers until it’s too late, IDF forces cut off from key cities, etc?

Strangely, despite frequent meetings with Israeli leadership and Israeli friends in America, Barack Obama continues to insist he knows how to secure Israel better than Bibi Netanyahu and the Israelis themselves.

Tags: Barack Obama , Israel , Tony Blair

Listen a Little Closer to the Au Pair



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The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes a fairly interesting column about watching Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu’s address to Congress with his 21-year-old Israeli au pair, who wasn’t a fan of Netanyahu before but who is now solidly in his corner.

But Milbank’s conclusion is, “This is why Obama’s speech was such a blunder. By pushing an Israeli moderate such as Inna into the arms of Netanyahu, Obama has strengthened the hard-liners.”

Interesting that the blunder is making Netanyahu more popular, as opposed to proposing a plan that even a relatively apolitical young Israeli would deem “crazy” and “impossible.” In other words, from this column, it seems it never crosses Milbank’s mind that the assessment of Israeli security needs from Netanyahu and his au pair is right, and that Obama’s assessment could be just flat wrong.

Tags: Barack Obama , Israel

James Jones Will Never Walk Into a Bar With a Priest and a Rabbi



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From the Tuesday edition of the  Morning Jolt:

Keep Up With This Jones? Well, Sometimes His Thinking Is Hard to Follow

Way back in 2008, I, among others, speculated about retired general James Jones as a running mate for John McCain. Since joining the Obama administration, Jones hasn’t been the regular generator of gaffes, controversies, and regrettable decisions the way Biden, Holder, and Napolitano have been. He started out pretty quiet in what had traditionally been a high-profile position, and before long was fending off rumors – unfounded, it seems – that he’s “so forgetful that at times he appears to have Alzheimer’s disease.”

Jones’ recent Jewish joke wasn’t a senile moment, but it required an epic tone-deafness that is best described as Biden-esque.

It’s been noted that U.S.-Israeli relations are at the lowest point in a generation. Yes, an earlier edition of this newsletter noted that plenty of Jews aren’t all that worried about how Obama treats the issue of Israel’s security, and figure Obama is handling all this just fine. But those who are paying attention are recognizing that Americans elected a president who isn’t particularly emotionally attached to the Jewish state and who seems convinced that a newly-conciliatory, peace-minded Palestinian attitude awaits after just one more round of concessions from Israel.

I don’t think Jones is an anti-Semite; I think he’s a clod. This wasn’t the worst joke in the world, but it takes a pretty amazing ability to not grasp the diplomatic ramifications of opening a speech about the Middle East peace process with a joke about those shrewd, tricky Jewish merchants. It takes an even greater ability to not sense the potential backlash to this kind of joke at a time like this. I suppose we should be glad he didn’t describe the South Park episode at length, or begin telling Polish jokes at that nation’s recent funeral.

The Anchoress: “All-in-all, I’d call it a very unwise joke for a security advisor to the American president to make, especially if the president is trying to convince the nation -by his words more than his actions- that he supports capitalism and the free market, the existence of Israel and the defeat of the Taliban.  The truth is the joke would have been inappropriate under any president; the White House and its administrators should never be in the business of laughing at anyone but themselves, because other-directed humor signals insecurity; self-denigrating humor does the opposite. A joke, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and -to some extent- so is a slur. How one receives a thing says much more about oneself than any joke or compliment or hateful remark.”

Tom Maguire is underwhelmed  with the rest of Jones’ speech: “Many Palestinians (and their partners in the international grievance community, such as Iran) may believe a narrative in which the tide of history is running their way – Israel is more isolated now with Obama in office, Iran is closer to a bomb, Gaza has been returned to the Palestinians in exchange for not much, and  who knows what the next decade will bring – in this environment, why should Palestinians sign away their imagined “right of return” now?  And how would Palestinians react to a “peace” deal imposed by the US – would they say “Peace at last” and resume something like a normal life, or would this become the Versailles Treaty of the 21st century?”

Worth noting in all this is how so many of these controversies break down along partisan lines; it’s tough to find a liberal blog that considers Jones’ joke a big deal, and yet I’m sure all of them were convinced, instantly, that “macaca” wasn’t a garden-variety insult but a deliberate racial slur. We never seem to think the bad jokes on our own side are worth worrying about, do we?

Tags: Barack Obama , Israel , James Jones

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