Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Israel's Full-court Press vs. Obama; plus Maliki's Visit

The Israeli government is pressing the Obama administration on a number of fronts, basically throwing back in his face his out-reach to Middle Eastern and Muslim countries as well as his call for recognition of the injustices done to Palestinians during the creation of Israel.

The Israeli government has decreed that the word al-Nakba ("Catastrophe"), which Palestinian Arabs have used for decades to refer to the events of 1947-1948, be removed from school textbooks. A convenient re-shaping of history by Israel - and especially ironic in that it has been Israeli historians like Benny Morris, Tom Segev, and Avi Shlaim who've led the way in revealing the extent to which Palestinians were forced out of their cities and villages.

In its fight against the US demand that Israel undertake no more building in East Jerusalem (a demand that Netanyahu has rejected), the Israeli government has instructed its embassies and propaganda arms worldwide to make use of an old photo showing Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a leading Palestinian nationalist of the 1930s and 1940s, meeting with Adolf Hitler in Berlin. The man died in Lebanon in 1974.

Netanyahu has announced that Israel won't dismantle its "security fence" walling off the West Bank from Israel. And I do mean "walling off." Along with the still demolished houses that litter the landscape of Gaza, this wall remains the most visible and tangible symbol of Israeli apartheid policies against the Palestinians. And add to that the fact that the wall has created new "facts on the ground" by enclosing many acres of land beyond the 1967 boundary.

Israeli officials have decided that Turkish PM Erdogan is too extreme to moderate Syria talks . This, because of his angry denunciation - aimed at Israel's president, Shimon Peres, as they shared a stage - of Israel's killing of hundreds of Gazans in the military operations last December and January. Erdogan justifiably earned widespread accolades for his forthrightness.

Israeli rabbis, led by Israel's Chief Rabbi, have sent a letter to U.S. rabbis and the President's Conference, urging them to exert political leverage in Israel's favor. Say they:
"The American government pressures Israel to prevent Jews from building houses in extensive areas in the Land of Israel, which is very unfortunate. We ask you to make use of your political power to lobby the American authorities to reconsider this policy in the spirit of truly democratic justice, and give weight to halakhic considerations that are binding for the Jews."

US Sec of State Hillary Clinton has stated that the US will provide a security umbrella for Persian Gulf countries in the event of a nuclear Iran. Says she:
“We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf,” . . . . “it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”
Someone might care to remind her that any Iranian nuclear weapon (which, the Iranians still say, they have no intention of actually developing) would probably be intended more for deterrence than for intimidation. Iran is surrounded countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, plus US bases in the Persian Gulf) by US ground, air, and naval forces, in strength, and has a nuke-armed and hostile Israel close at hand. Could you blame them for seeking a deterrent?
Israel, however, is angry at the US, calling Clinton's statement a cave-in that opens the door to acquiescence to an Iranian nuclear capability.

And speaking of Iraq, Foreign Policy has a nice analysis of Nuri al-Maliki's tenure as Iraq's prime minister, and raises the question of whether the US has in fact created a new Iraqi strongman. The piece leads off: "The New Nuri al-Maliki - U.S. officials used to worry that Iraq's prime minister was too weak. That was then." Indeed. And now he's about to meet with Mr. Obama in DC. The FP piece notes:

Iraq is further down on President Barack Obama's list of priorities, coming after Afghanistan, Iran, the global economic crisis, and a range of domestic initiatives. Although Obama has wisely allowed the Iraq policy he inherited from Bush to continue for the near term, he lacks Bush's enthusiasm for the war and his belief in the strategic importance of the long-term U.S.-Iraq relationship. As for Maliki himself, Obama's advisors have made clear their belief that Bush was too close to the prime minister as an individual and that U.S. support is for Iraqi institutions rather than particular leaders.

This week, Maliki will meet a president whose support for a democratic Iraq is genuine, but not guaranteed. U.S. officials are annoyed at what they regard as Maliki's overconfidence, demonstrated in particular by his celebratory handling of the recent withdrawal and the strict implementation of new rules restraining U.S. forces. Obama and his administration want a strong alliance with Iraq, but also a more balanced one that involves responsibilities and obligations on both sides. For the new president, Iraq is important for U.S. interests but not critical, and he casts a more skeptical eye on the benefits the United States receives in return for its massive support. The burden is on Maliki to make his case that both he and the U.S.-Iraq relationship more generally are still worth the America' time and trouble.
For his own sake, Maliki needs to succeed. Without continued US back-up, he will be toast. But to the extent that Obama keeps furnishing that back-up, he has less wherewithal to deal with an Afghanistan war that will likely prove much more than he - or the guy that sent the US in to begin with, Mr. Bush - ever bargained for. And, given Pakistan's new objections to the US presence there, much more complicated.

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