Thursday, May 28, 2009

Obama's independence from the Jewish lobby

Barack Obama has really found in the form of the internet, a new source of funding that overwhelms the previous political funding model. I have not seen much discussion about this, but Bill Clinton's median campaign dollar, likely came from a source that was relatively sympathetic to Israel. (Meaning if he collected $60 million, then put the contributors in a spectrum from most to least sympathetic to Israel, count from either side, and choose the contributor who gave the contribution that put him over $30 million.)

Jewish Americans, the US' single most wealthy ethnic group, was during Clinton's time by far the most wealthy segment of the Democratic coalition that Clinton, Gore or Kerry would have needed to win election.

Obama had vastly outsized contributions by African Americans supporting the exciting prospect of another African American with a realistic chance of winning. He also had, through the internet, a more effective way to extract money from a young urban cosmopolitan demographic that contains Jewish people but not is not nearly as disproportionately Jewish as Clinton's support base.

Contrary to Bill Clinton's, Barack Obama's median campaign dollar likely came from a donor less invested in the continuance of a Jewish state, or less willing to accept or justify misery imposed on others such as the Palestinians as necessary for the greater goal of Israel's security even than Obama himself is. There is no pro-Israel donor who can credibly say to Barack Obama that without the viewpoint I represent, you cannot amass the resources necessary to win election.

This possibly marks a structural change in US politics.

Stratfor's Friedman describes the play-acting that is the Israel peace process

Stratfor's George Friedman presents a two-state solution to the conflict over Zionism as inherently unreachable, but argues that the appearance of progress on the front is in the interests of Israel and the pro-Israel Arab dictatorships. He is right about this and accurate in his description of the play-acting on the issue whose objective is to accomplish nothing but a continuation of the status quo while presenting the appearance of progress.

The pro-Israel dictatorships are relics of the colonial era that depend for their existence on the continued unresolved status of the struggle over Zionism. A solution either way would end the unnatural situation in which the world's preeminent power has an inherent interest in a large group of people, the Arabs, living under unrepresentative regimes. Without that interest of the US in their sustenance, natural processes would either quickly or gradually remove them from power, and would have generations ago.

I wonder to what degree the defeat of the US effort, ultimately largely on Israel's behalf, to contain Iran will have on the sustainability of the essentially transparent farce Friedman describes. When Western reporters describe secret expressions of alarm from Arab sources, they are likely describing concern over this question.

Westerners like Friedman, citizens of essentially democratic countries with competitive and effective political processes, should feel ashamed of themselves for their open identification with the needs of Arab dictatorships to continue repressing their subjects, but do not because of their sentimental attachment to Israel. The Arab dictators themselves, as they invent rationalizations and diversions, are being self-centered as most non-ideologically motivated human beings are in comparable circumstances. They are also thereby demonstrating the ideological ineptness of their versions of religion, religion is ostensibly inherently ideological, to which they subscribe.

Obama may see more clearly than Friedman that the US will not indefinitely be able to sustain the farces necessary to support Zionism, which leaves that ideological movement the choices of either accommodation to the concerns of the Palestinians or defeat.

Or Friedman may see more clearly than Obama that there is no such thing as an accommodation to the concerns of the Palestinians that will stave off defeat. Leaving the choices of a prolonged status quo or the defeat of Zionism.

One thing that is clear is that the process, now openly described by both its supporters and detractors as intrinsically dishonest, of making illusory progress towards peace to cover the interest of those aligned with Zionism with maintaining the current situation is becoming more difficult for the US to support, both morally and in terms of resources, as the US becomes less able to bear those costs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A difficult speech on June 4

I thought the speech in Turkey was his major address to a Muslim country. I did not expect this.

This speech is very close to the Lebanese election and less then two weeks before the Iranian election.

The problem with the speech is that no matter what he says, Nasrallah gets the last word in Lebanon and Ahmadinejad gets the last word in Iran.

Hopefully he'll say nothing specific like in Turkey. In that best case, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad will rightly say he is only saying words but not changing policy that is very harmful to a lot of Muslims. He is just George Bush with better speeches. That wouldn't sell in the United States, but Nasrallah is far better at Lebanese politics than Obama, and Ahmadinejad is better at Iranian. This will on net benefit them, but if he is upbeat and vague, it can be a small loss.

Possibly Obama will give a detailed evaluation of the region and some of its problems. There is no way a speech by Obama could do that without at some point clumsily offending a lot of Muslims. There is no speech that could get the approval of the US foreign policy apparatus that would not hand hundred of thousands of votes to any anti-US politician in the Middle East.

The fact that the speech is in Egypt was shocking to me. I'm sure Obama does not understand the symbol he's making by doing that. To even say the word "democracy" while standing in Egypt discredits Obama and his country. It likely is a repayment for Egypt's recent increase in cooperation with Israel, but Obama must not realize what it makes him look like. If he understood, he would have spoken somewhere else and come up with a different repayment.

I wish Obama the best of luck. But if he manages to minimize his losses, that will be an accomplishment.

The Link Between the Settlements and the Iran

Short one.

My feel is that Obama is going to make a proposal to Iran that will allow Iran to keep domestic enrichment. He has already told Netanyahu, long before their recent meeting and everyone else in the region.

The connection between Iran's nuclear program and Israel's settlements is not that if Israel freezes its settlements Obama will have more leverage to stop Iranian enrichment. It is that once Iran is enriching in an accepted way, and sanctions begin to be relaxed world-wide, including by the US, then peace with the Palestinians, or at least tangible progress towards peace, for which a settlement freeze is a pre-requisite, is important for Israel's survival as a Jewish state.

There actually is not a rush, that settlement must have been stopped by September, or the end of this year. However, as time passes, the region is turning against Israel in a process the US has little leverage to contain. The US will have more leverage to slow the process if Israel has made concessions to the Palestinians.

New York Time's Cohen shifts into the next gear

Somebody at the New York Times has decided, for some reason, to give voice to full-fledged advocacy of US reconciliation with Iran. This advocacy now goes way beyond what is comfortable for the right-wing hawk section of pro-Israel thought in the US and in Israel. It is also by now far ahead of where the US' overall consensus position on Iran is.

The New York Times now is closer in its view of Iran to the US defense establishment than it is to the US civilian foreign policy establishment. The US foreign policy establishment is heavily influenced by Jewish Americans who feel a sentimental connection to Zionism. Most people who care enough about the region to steer themselves into the direction of working on the Middle East for their careers are Jewish. Everybody who works on that region as a career works with a large amount of Jewish Americans. This has given US policy up to now a very heavy pro-Israel tilt. This effect is far stronger in the State Department than in the Army because people at state have more flexibility to serve where they are most interested. The state department is also more Jewish to start with than the Army.

In the run up to Iraq, the Army and State Department were aligned. Americans, even professionals, were angry in a vague way at the Arab/Muslim people. An invasion offered an opportunity to cause a lot of damage. Hussein's armed forces clearly could not win a confrontation directly. The New York Times infamously hosted Judith Miller, who worked to advance the cause of invasion. At the time though, there was no institutional opposition to the invasion in either the civilian or military foreign policy establishments.

Iran 2009 is a different story than Iraq 2002.

Possibly partly to make amends for its role in advocating the Iraq war that is now seen as a failure, the New York Times has become the media source in its class that is the most vigorous in opposition to hostility with Iran. Another possible motivation may be that the New York Times may be more well attuned with the US military foreign policy establishment than other media organizations. This would not have made a difference in the run-up to Iraq because then the military was as enthusiastic as the civilians. The difference may be coming into view today.

So we have Roger Cohen expressing anger at Barack Obama for not more forcefully imposing his views on Netanyahu.

Obama must remind Israel of that. He should also tell Bibi that the real existential threat to Israel is not Amalek but hubris: An attack on Iran that would put the Jewish state at war with Persians as well as Arabs, undermine its core U.S. alliance, and set Tehran on a full-throttle course to a nuclear bomb with the support of some 1.2 billion Muslims.

Last week we had Flynn and Hillary Mann Leverett call for a complete reversal of US Iran policy as the only way to prevent disaster.

Why has President Obama put himself in a position from which he cannot deliver on his own professed interest in improving relations with the Islamic Republic? Some diplomatic veterans who have spoken with him have told us that the president said that he did not realize, when he came to office, how “hard” the Iran problem would be. But what is hard about the Iran problem is not periodic inflammatory statements from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or episodes like Ms. Saberi’s detention. What is really hard is that getting America’s Iran policy “right” would require a president to take positions that some allies and domestic constituencies won’t like.

I agree with both. Though Obama's style has always been to cede symbolic victories to his opponents to make what seem to him as more substantive issues easier for his opponents to accept. My best guess at this point is that Obama intends to go back on the US position that Iran cannot enrich uranium and if I'm right the symbols that are alarming Cohen and the Leveretts really are less important.

I'm most intrigued though, by the role the New York Times is playing in advocating more cooperative policy towards Iran. The NYT is famously Jewish owned and managed and was far more hawkish on the Iraq invasion than the median American, to say nothing of the median New York City resident, which itself was more opposed to the invasion than the rest of the United States.

Last year the Boston Globe was publishing stories that Iran had achieved "escalation dominance" in its region. The implication was that Iran was too potentially dangerous to the US position in the region to confront directly. This assessment clearly came from US military sources. Time Magazine was the first major source to clearly describe the difference between having a nuclear weapon and being "nuclear capable", defying US policy of trying to confuse those two concepts as much as possible. Last year at this time, the New York Times hewed the line that capability is a weapon very annoyingly.

The Boston Globe and Time Magazine may well be more flexible in what sources they allow themselves to give voice to. The change in perception towards Iran, felt more strongly in some parts of the US foreign policy establishment than others, may have reached those media sources earlier than they reached the NY Times. Or possibly the New York Times took longer to make the decision to publish that point of view. But the New York Times is certainly publishing that point of view now, in its own name and attached to its own prestige and credibility, to the US decision-making class.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why is Iran Behaving So Provocatively Towards Israel?

My feel is that Iran has not been acting especially provocatively towards Israel. My take is that from the Iranian point of view, Iran has been taking reasonable positions that are being deliberately stretched and distorted by Israel and friends of Israel for their own political reasons.

There is the "wiped off the map". Which is famous by now. Iran does not consider Zionist Israel a legitimate state as it did not consider Apartheid South Africa a legitimate state. He gave examples of other regimes that no longer exist the way Israel's Zionist regime will no longer exist according to him. His examples were the USSR, Saddam's regime and the Shah's regime. There was nothing genocidal in that statement. The idea of Ahmadinejad making a threat against the Jewish people or people of Israel really was not a reasonable interpretation of the speech. The actual speech was not provocative, beyond the fact that government of Iran and the vast majority of its citizens do not consider Israel legitimate (pretty standard for the region, even if a lot of rulers part with their subjects under Western pressure).

On the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad has only ever made two points, 1 is that it occurred in Europe and Palestinians should not pay for it and 2 the story has a privileged status, to the degree that people in the West are imprisoned for expressing doubts about the official story. He's never asserted that a certain number of people died or didn't die. Far less has he ever expressed sympathy or support for Hitler, to whom he has referred as "that criminal" or the Nazi party.

Most important is the nuclear program. Iran believes it has the right to the nuclear status Japan has. Japan does not have a weapon today, or a weapons program today, but if Japan's strategic environment was to change in some unforeseen way in the future, Japan has the right to leave the treaty and make a weapon if it perceives the need. This right of Japan is not in any way abrogated by the NPT.

The United States, following Israel, has adopted the position that Iran must not have nuclear enrichment under its domestic control. This position is very unreasonable at least by the terms of the NPT. From there the situation becomes weird.

The United States and Israel often deliberately conflate what they call a nuclear "capability", which is legal, with a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu recently said there would be a great dangers if Iran "arms itself with a nuclear weapons capability".

Nobody closely following the issue is confused but Israel's people could be forgiven for being fooled by their leaders into thinking enrichment is a weapon. But this is not "ambiguity" on Iran's part. It is dishonesty on the part of US and Israeli leaders.

US and Israeli leaders often use phrases such as "we are confident Iran wants a weapon or at least the capability to create one if it decides to". That "or" is carrying a lot of weight, because one side of the disjunction is prohibited by the NPT as long as Iran remains a signatory, while the other is perfectly legal.

What is happening, the source of the perceived ambiguity, is that in order to maximize pressure on Iran to renounce a legal right, US and Israeli leaders are often deliberately conflating it with a weapon. This is not Iran's fault.

When US Admiral Mullen recently said the believes Iran is trying to build a weapon maybe he meant he has information that nobody else knows about that Iran actually has a weapons program. But maybe by "weapon" he means "weapons capability". US and Israeli policymakers, deliberately attempting to mislead, use these vastly different concepts so interchangeably that it is never clear anymore what they mean. And they are never questioned closely on it.

Lastly, still about the nuclear program, Iran likely calculates that Israel cannot bomb Iran's program without US permission and the US will not give permission.

So regardless of any hysteria Israel's leaders whip Israel's people into, without the US on board, this is nothing more than a bluff, possibly to scare the Europeans into adopting sanctions.

If the US was willing to allow Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear plants, the US would do it itself, the US has more planes and cruise missiles closer than Israel has, and the blowback from a US or Israeli attack on the US would be the same.

If Israel doubted the US would shoot Israeli jets out of the sky attempting to bomb Iran without permission, Israel would have already bombed Iran.

So for those reasons, the nuclear issue seems like a higher-stakes, more risky endeavor in Tel-Aviv than it does in Tehran.

Iran's nuclear behavior, from Iran's point of view, is not only not provocative, but a reasonable position in a dispute that would have been resolved in 2004 if the US was willing to accept Iranian domestic enrichment under an inspection regime as stringent as anybody wants. The US position has never been for a more stringent inspection regime, but for Iran not to be "nuclear capable" in the way Japan is. Iran does not consider itself any more provocative than Japan or Brazil.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New US attack preparations against Iran?

A story originally posted, then apparently removed from Ynet News.
Obama orders Gates to update plan for Iran strike

American defense secretary tells NBC television president has instructed him to refresh plans for military action against Tehran prepared during Bush era.

I'm fairly confident there will be no US or Israeli airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities for the next two presidential terms. But this story represents an increase in belligerency that goes against the direction in which US/Iranian relations had seemed to be moving.

On the other hand, 1) it is an Israeli source and in line with the direction Israel would like to see US/Iranian relations move and 2) it may have been withdrawn, meaning it may have been placed accidentally.

Having plans is not a big deal. Announcing plans is a big deal, not necessarily an indication that plans will be carried out, but a statement in themselves. It is not clear to what degree this story represents a US announcement, but it would have been better if it had not happened.

The Obama administration is really hitting a lot of wrong notes in the run ups to the elections in Iran and Lebanon in June. One reason is that Obama is not an extraordinarily talented foreign policy president and does not seem to have a clear and specific vision of what he wants to see happen in the Middle East. Another reason is that the United States does not have an institutional apparatus capable of making the type of change in tone Obama says (probably sincerely) that he wants to make in the Middle East.