1) Cabinet making
In 2008, on the campaign trail, candidate Barack Obama flattered himself by evoking Abraham Lincoln and promising a cabinet composed of a "team of rivals."
Now headed into his second term he has proposed three new officials for his government. The Washington Post sees this as an opportunity for A Senate Debate on Mr. Obama's foreign policy. The editorial works from the assumption that John Brennan and Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are qualified and should confirmed as Director of Central Intelligence, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, respectively.
The real issues raised by Mr. Hagel’s nomination are his past support for a quick-as-possible withdrawal from Afghanistan, a further downsizing of what he described as a “bloated” Pentagon and his resistance to foreign interventions.
To a large degree, these views are shared by Mr. Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran, and coincide with Mr. Obama’s plans for his second term. So the Senate ought to explore and debate their potential benefits and risks. Can defense spending sustain large cuts beyond the more than a half-trillion dollars Mr. Obama sliced during his first term? Can Afghanistan avoid another civil war if U.S. troops are rapidly withdrawn in favor of a minimal stay-behind force — or none at all? Is it wise for the United States to remain passive as the civil war in Syria intensifies and threatens to spread to its neighbors?
Then there is the challenge of Iran: In contrast to Mr. Obama, Mr. Hagel has suggested that containment of an Iranian nuclear weapon could be an acceptable policy, and he has opposed both military action and unilateral U.S. sanctions. In Tehran, his appointment might be taken as evidence that the Obama administration would not act if Iran refused to brake its steps toward a bomb. But is it? Or would Mr. Hagel support the president’s choice of military measures if negotiations fail? The question is far from academic: Israel’s government believes that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capacity could reach the point of no return by the middle of this year, and Israel may strike on its own if it concludes that U.S. intervention cannot be relied upon.In its initial endorsement of President Obama in 2008, the Post worried about his inclination to withdraw quickly from Afghanistan. Despite his failure on this count and Iraq (by the Post's standards) the paper still endorsed him last year for a second term.
The editorial would be more convincing if it urged rejection of the nominees in a case where the Senate debate shows that confirmation of them would portend bad administration policies. What's the point of a debate if it leads to no consequences?
Victor Davis Hanson is skeptical of The Obama nominations because two of the nominees seem to have conveniently, evolving principles.
In that sense, both Hagel and Brennan, like so many in Washington, show a depressing political fluidity: Hagel voted for a war against Saddam in 2003, was mostly silent when it went well, and then during the difficult and soon-to-be politically unpopular reconstruction suddenly declared, as did many, that it had been a war for oil all along (albeit one that he had voted for) and he thus now opposed it, as well as the surge (“the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam”) — in the manner of Brennan’s opportunistic “the king is dead; long live the king” turn-about on anti-terrorism rhetoric as administrations changed. At any rate, Brennan, mutatis mutandis, waxed as effusively over Obama as he once had over Dick Cheney (e.g., “The vice president is somebody who has a tremendous intellect, has tremendous commitment to the security of this nation.”)
In short, the tragedy here is that, in terms of stability, the administration has come up short in its deliberate efforts to focus on nominees who recoiled at those whom they once embraced. Hagel would not be of the steady caliber of his predecessors Gates and Panetta, nor would Brennan be of the constant measure of a Panetta or Petraeus. And we may well learn how and why in the next four years.In Chuck Hagel's Courage, Bret Stephens concludes that on one topic Hagel has stayed true to his principles.
But give Mr. Hagel this: When it comes to expressing himself about Israel, its enemies, and the influence of the so-called Jewish lobby, he has been nothing if not consistent and outspoken.
Maybe that's political courage. Or maybe it's a mental twitch, the kind you can't quite help. The confirmation process should be illuminating.In Noxious Nominations: The Four Horsemen of the American Foreign Policy Apocalypse
Barry Rubin points to other principles that all three have embraced:
With Brennan running the CIA, though, do you think there will be critical intelligence evaluations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, or even Hamas? Is the CIA going to warn U.S. leaders about the repression against women, Christians, and moderates? Will there be warnings that Islamists are taking over Syria or reports on Islamist involvement in killing Americans in Benghazi? Can we have confidence about U.S. policy toward Iran?
To get some insight into his thinking, consider the incident in which a left-wing reporter, forgetting there were people listening, reminded Brennan that in an earlier private conversation he admitted favoring engagement not only with the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah, but also the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Ask yourself this question: when an American intelligence chief told Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate, secular group, who approved that line of argument?
Kerry, of course, was the most energetic backer of sponsoring Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad before the revolt began. Now he will be the most energetic backer of putting the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Syria. Here is a man who once generalized about American soldiers in Vietnam as being baby-killers and torturers (such things certainly happened but Kerry, made the blame collective, except for himself of course).
As for Hagel, suffice it to say that the embarrassing quotes and actions from him in the past — including his opposition to sanctions against Iran — fueled a response to his proposed nomination so strong that the administration had to back down for a while.Needless to say in a second Obama term, if we're looking to history, Jimmy Carter may be a better guide than Abraham Lincoln.
2) Whose side is Israel on?
One of the subtle (and often not so subtle) themes we've seen from the "commentariat" during the presidential campaign and the Hagel nomination fight is that it is in some way untoward to advocate for Israel. (Some of the more noxious comments have strongly suggested that those who are pro-Israel are guilty of dual loyalty.) So are America's and Israel's interests that divergent?
Two recent news stories demonstrate otherwise.
At the top of the New York Times today was Bank Hacks Were Work of Iranians, Officials Say:
A hacker group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed in online posts that it was responsible for the attacks.
The group said it attacked the banks in retaliation for an anti-Islam video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad, and pledged to continue its campaign until the video was scrubbed from the Internet. It called the campaign Operation Ababil, a reference to a story in the Koran in which Allah sends swallows to defeat an army of elephants dispatched by the king of Yemen to attack Mecca in A.D. 571.
But American intelligence officials say the group is actually a cover for Iran. They claim Iran is waging the attacks in retaliation for Western economic sanctions and for a series of cyberattacks on its own systems. In the last three years, three sophisticated computer viruses — called Flame, Duqu and Stuxnet — have hit computers in Iran. The New York Times reported last year that the United States, together with Israel, was responsible for Stuxnet, the virus used to destroy centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010. Maybe this doesn't show that Israel is allied with the United States, but it certainly shows that Iran deems both countries as its enemies. More conclusive is Hints of Syrian Chemical Push Set Off Global Effort to Stop It (h/t Elder of Ziyon; more at memeorandum):
In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.
Within hours President Obama was notified, and the alarm grew over the weekend, as the munitions were loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases. In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria’s increasingly desperate president, Bashar al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood.
What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over a civil war in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action.One takeaway is as Noah Pollak tweeted:
It was Israeli intel that caught Syria's move to use WMD. Countless Arab lives saved.Interestingly it doesn't appear than any of those "friends of Israel" who endorse Hagel have retweeted this story.
While there may be political disagreements between Israel and the United States, they are still allies and allied against a number of common enemies.
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