Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seriously Questionable and Legitimately Objectionable

Meet the man who will be writing Obama's Middle East policy positions

If it seems like I’m Obama-bashing, I know, it’s nothing new. But up to the election, my bashing was speculation-based. I was part of the crowd who strongly questioned his commitment to Israel, and the type and quality of support he would provide. I wrote earlier this month in these pages that he has suffered multiple set-backs in his foreign policy since taking the oath of office. These set-backs stemmed from his inactivity on the foreign front. I’m ready to comment on his activity now, specifically in the area of Israel. It does not look good at all, even if you’re a pacifist supporter of Israel.

In the last week, there have been four events that suggest the Obama administration is bending significantly towards the Palestinian side of the conflict:

1. His appointed envoy to the conflict, George Mitchell, suggested that he would support a Palestinian unity government with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas – legitimizing Hamas as a political entity rather than its’ reality as a terrorist organization.
2. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s statement that Israel needed to open up the borders to Gaza to allow in materials, dubiously and generously called “aide”. We’re talking items such as concrete and chemicals, which are used by Hamas to both legitimize its role as provider and build weapons and facilities used against Israel.
3. A release from the State Department officially stating the administration’s support for a PA-Hamas unity government.
4. The appointment of Charles “Chas” Freeman, Jr., as head of the National Intelligence Council, which produces Executive Branch policy memos.

The first three points are not promising, but they are not as significant as the last. Mitchell, Clinton, and the State department are very public, and the essence of their words is not unsurprising. While clearly ineffective (legitimizing Hamas as a political party means continued instability and extremist agendas in the Middle East), the policy they present will prove it ineffective and wrong. This last point, though, is extremely scary, and I use that perhaps childish term with a purpose.

To understand the fear Freeman should put in any supporter of Israel, a quick trip through his career should suffice. Freeman is a strong friend of Saudi Arabia, who is not a strong friend of Israel. A former ambassador to the country, he eventually became the president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington D.C.-based policy group masquerading as nonpartisan while striving “to ensure a full range of U.S. interests and views are considered by policy makers.” The MEPC, however, was until 1991 named the American-Arab Affairs Council, and continues to serve today as the mouthpiece for the country that funds it: Saudi Arabia.

In 2006, Mr. Freeman went on the record in an interview that the MEPC owed its existence to the “generosity of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia” and that he was “delighted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, after a long delay, begun to make serious public relations efforts.”

One of the most recent actions that the MEPC took was to publish the article by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt called, you know it and hate it well, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”. It’s the article that lead to their book, both of which accused pro-Israel groups like AIPAC of driving U.S. Foreign Policy, making absurd accusations like the one about American Jews having a “stranglehold” on the U.S. Congress, using the legislative branch to steer the U.S. towards Israel at the expense of American interests. It also accuses American Jews of conspiring to create the Iraq War. Of the article, Freeman said “No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article, given the political penalties that the Lobby (American Jews) imposes on those who criticize it.” This is the man who is going to head the department that drafts President Obama’s policy positions on foreign affairs.

In the lead up to Election Day, Obama had spoken of helping Israel find credible partners with whom they could find peace. Yet the man he has appointed to write his Middle East policy positions believes that “Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them.” The primary reason America faces a terrorist problem today, he said, is “the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to mark its fortieth anniversary and shows no sign of ending.” (He said this in 2006). The president has appointed a man with a clear and historical understanding of reality, and when I say that, I mean none of it.

What is surprising, or at least what was surprising until the realization of the above mentioned points 1 through 3, is that these views differ from those of Freeman’s new boss, the president. This is especially true when you consider his other views, such as those on China. For example, on the subject of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, he wrote “The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud…the response to the mob scene at Tiananmen stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action…I do not believe that it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be." Even in the context of chastising the Chinese authorities for the results, these are remarkable statements for man who has been asked to join an Executive Branch that has promised to advance the cause of human rights. To place the blame of the death toll on the government’s reaction to the protests is to cast aside the blame on the government’s actions in governing the country, which is where the blame out to lay.

That this man has been assigned to write some of the most important and influential foreign policy analysis is downright scary, and even more, unbelievable. For a president who sold himself to the American public and curious, intellectual, and progressive, the beliefs of the man who he has asked to draft his positions are closed, ignorant, and antiquated.

1 comment:

!JustDance said...

So. Congress has finally discovered our not-so-covert plan to take over the world. Who let the cat out of the bag?

Good post, SNITF. It is strange that Obama would assign a man who seems close-minded to such a signigicant post. However, Freeman's attributes do not reflect on Obama. Just because Daschle doesn't pay taxes, does not mean that Obama does the same.

But I see what you are saying. America may take a new stance to the Mid-east conflict. It seems worrisome now, but maybe a little leeway will lessen Israel-hatred?