Charlie: “You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.”
Terry: “It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, `Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.’….I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit….”
–Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront.
In a major address on U S. Middle East policy to the Brookings Institution U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave us a clear picture of the Obama Administration’s view of the region. When taken along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on the same subject, we now know the following regarding Obama’s policy:
It is dangerously and absurdly wrong. This administration totally and completely, dangerously and disastrously for U.S. interests misunderstand the Middle East. They are 180 degrees off course, that is heading in the opposite direction of safety.
Despite the satisfactory state of relations on a purely military level, the Obama Administration is not a friend of Israel, even to the extent that it was arguably so in the first two years of this presidency.
It is now an enemy; it is on the other side. Again, the issue is not mainly bilateral relations but the administration’s help and encouragement to those forces that are Israel’s biggest enemies, that want to rekindle war, and that are 100 percent against a two-state solution. And I don’t mean the Palestinian Authority, I mean the Islamists.
And the Obama Administration is also a strategic enemy of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan. It is also a strategic enemy to the democratic opposition forces in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt.
Having analyzed and studied the Middle East for almost four decades I say none of this lightly. And these conclusions arise simply from watching what the administration says and does.
In his speech, Panetta has bashed Israel based on a ridiculously false premise. Here it is:
“I understand the view that this is not the time to pursue peace, and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view.” Nevertheless, Israel needs to take risks and particularly, “The problem right now is we can’t get them to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences.”
First, there is a peculiar phrase that I have not seen used even once to describe the Middle East events of 2011, “Arab awakening” instead of “Arab Spring.” This apparently comes from the title of a new book about these events.
But what is the origin of this phrase? The Arab Awakening was the famous book written by George Antonius (subsidized by a U.S foundation to do so, by the way) advocating Arab nationalism and opposition to Zionism in 1938. The Arab Awakening began a half-century pan-Arab struggle against Israel’s creation or existence might this not give us a hint of what the new “Arab Awakening” is going to do? Oh, and 1938 marks the year when Great Britain desperately tried to sell out the Jews in order to gain Arab support (for the coming war with Germany and Italy). Within two years of Antonius’s book the form the Arab Awakening took was an alliance with Nazi Germany. One of the main allies of Berlin was the Muslim Brotherhood, now coming into power in Tunisia and Egypt.
But there are three other major questions raised in Panetta’s statement.
First, does the current “Arab Awakening” imperil Israel? Yes, of course it does. By changing a reasonably friendly Egyptian government into a totally hostile Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi dominated political system closely allied with Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s ruler, and by helping establish Islamist regimes in Tunisia and Libya allied with this Muslim Brotherhood International; the changes create a four-member alliance intent on wiping Israel off the map.
Add to that Islamist domination of Lebanon by Hizballah, an Islamist regime in Turkey, and the continuing threat from Iran and you’ve got quite a regional situation.
Second, and more interestingly, why is the above true?
The answer is as follows:
Democracy in theory is admirable but when you have masses imbued with very radical views, strong Islamist movements, and weak moderate ones, the election winners will be extremely radical Islamists. By winning massive victories, facing a weak (even sympathetic) United States, and seeing even mor extreme forces becoming so popular (the Salafists in Egypt) the Islamists are emboldened to be even more radical in their behavior. Who’s going to stop them?
We are thus not facing a springtime of democracy but a springtime of extremism.
The Islamists don’t want peace with Israel on any terms. They want its destruction. They will not be dissuaded by a peace agreement. They will do anything possible–starting with demagoguery and ending with terrorism or even war–to block such a diplomatic solution. How can Israeli action reconcile those who don’t want peace?
As of now, the following are governed or will soon be governed by Islamists who want Israel’s destruction and genocide against the Jews there: Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.
The following are governed by those who want peace with Israel: Jordan.
Not only is the United States not opposing this development it is supporting it. In other words, U.S. policy is intensifying the threat to Israel, not helping Israel.
Third, why are there no negotiations? As the history of the issue since January 2009 shows, it is the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Israel. If Panetta and the Obama Administration were either wise or honest they would acknowledge this fact. Instead, they blame Israel. Once again, U.S. policy is intensifying the threat to Israel, not helping Israel.
Consequently, Panetta’s statement that Israel has a responsibility to build regional support for Israeli and United States’ security objectives is nonsense. Let me put it in the form of a lesson in logic:
Israeli security objectives and the U.S. national interest are consistent.
But Israeli security objectives and Obama administration objectives are not consistent.
And Obama administration objectives and the U.S. national interest are not consistent.
Consider Panetta’s statement:
“I believe security is dependent on a strong military but it is also dependent on strong diplomacy. And unfortunately, over the past year, we’ve seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow.”
But why has it grown? Because of the advance of Islamist radical regimes and movements which are not tolerant of Israel’s security needs or in fact of Israel’s existence.
This is the equivalent of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain making the same statement in 1938. “I believe security is dependent on a strong military but it is also dependent on strong diplomacy. And unfortunately, over the past year, we’ve seen Czechoslovakia’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow.”
Panetta’s suggestion, like that of Chamberlain in 1938 is that Israel should mend relations with such “traditional security partners.” Specifically, he stated, “Israel can reach out and mend fences with those who share an interest in regional stability – countries like Turkey and Egypt, as well as Jordan,”
That statement is false. Israel can’t reach out and mend fences with Turkey and Egypt because they do not share an interest in regional stability. They are no longer status quo powers; they are countries that want revolutionary change in the Middle East. And this claim takes on special irony since Israel must now not just mend the fence but build an entirely new fence to protect itself from cross-border attacks from Egypt.
Turkey today is not the Turkey of the past. Israel had good relations with Turkey when it was governed by center-right or social democratic parties. Today Turkey is governed by Islamists who hate Israel. Doesn’t Panetta understand the difference? No! Now that’s scary.
Here’s the truth: The Islamist regime in Turkey has replaced Israel as the number-one Middle East friend and advisor. And this is a government about which a half-dozen years ago Israel’s ambassador told an American counterpart (as we see on Wikileaks) that this regime hates Israel and hates Jews. That message is in a State Department cable.
What about Egypt? Well, the Obama Administration helped get rid of that security partner. And as for Jordan, it is understandably scared stiff. In the environment of Islamist advance it is trying to appease its own Islamists and is moving closer to Hamas as a way of surviving. And last month the king of Jordan said in a Washington Post interview that nobody could depend on America any more.
Panetta said, “It is in Israel’s interest, Turkey’s interest, and US interest for Israel to reconcile with Turkey, and both Turkey and Israel need to do more to put their relationship back on track,” But it is not—repeat not—in the interest of the current government of Turkey to reconcile with Israel. We saw this in the Israel-Turkey negotiations over the flotilla in which the Turkish prime minister wanted to ensure there would be no deal.
There are two more shockingly absurd pieces of advice Panetta has for Israel.
“This is not impossible [for Israel to try to mend fences]. If the gestures are rebuked, the world will see those rebukes for what they are. And that is exactly why Israel should pursue them.”
What does an Israeli audience think of when it reads this? Of the same old message from the West to Israel: make gestures, give concessions, take risks, and when they are rebuked “the world will see.” This is precisely the same advice given regarding the 1990s’ peace process, the freeze of construction on settlements, and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. And every time the world doesn’t see. After the risk is taken (and Israel’s security suffers), and the concessions are made (and Israelis die), the world is even more critical of Israel and repeats, as Panetta does, that Israel has done nothing for peace.
These are harsh words about the Obama Administration and for those who don’t understand the current situation in the Middle East they will no doubt seem partisan, extreme, and alarmist.
This is the worst tragedy of all: sadly and regrettably they are quite true.
Normal president reality check: Imagine a normal president of either party. Wouldn’t that person, or the secretary of state, say something like this: We are aware that Israel now has to deal with an increased number of hostile governments in the region and we will do our best to help it meet this challenge.
Barry Rubin writes for the GLORIA Center, from where this article is adapted.