Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Obama and J Street, enemies of Israel, choose Iran

Richard Baehr
"Obama's pressure only begins with Iran
In the last few days, it has become clearer that the Obama administration's ‎obsession over turning Iran into an ally, or at least no longer a foe, is the single ‎highest foreign policy objective for the White House. This new engagement with ‎the Iranians has included cooperation in the current fight with the Islamic State group in Iraq and ‎Syria, and the continuing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. The ‎importance of Iran to the administration became more evident when Deputy ‎National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was caught on tape telling a group of ‎progressive advocates invited to the White House that a nuclear deal with Iran was ‎as big a deal for President Barack Obama in his second term, as passage of Obamacare was for the ‎first term. ‎
‎"Bottom line is, this is the best opportunity we've had ‎to resolve the Iranian issue diplomatically, certainly ‎since President Obama came to office, and probably ‎since the beginning of the Iraq war," Rhodes said. "So ‎no small opportunity, it's a big deal. This is probably ‎the biggest thing President Obama will do in his ‎second term on foreign policy. This is health care for ‎us, just to put it in context."‎
The comparison of the Iranian track with the administration's "all-in" commitment ‎to securing congressional approval for his health care reform legislation, is an ‎ominous sign. Within the administration, some of the savviest voices with long ‎experience in working with Congress, such as then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, ‎urged the president not to gamble on a big health care reform package in 2009-‎‎2010. The proposed Affordable Care Act was already drawing enormous political ‎fire from Republicans and the newly formed tea party movement, and major ‎elements of the bill seemed to be unworkable or unduly complex. But the president ‎decided, based it seems on the advice of others more ideologically attuned to his ‎politics (e.g., White House adviser Valerie Jarrett), to "go big," and to try to be more ‎‎"transformative." In the end, the legislation passed, but the electoral fallout in 2010 ‎proved a disaster for Democrats in the congressional midterms.
Predictably, the president and his team made sure that the extension for ‎negotiations with Iran by the P5+1, carried through November 24, three weeks ‎after the current midterm elections. The president and his team are delusional ‎about many things, but likely not so delusional that they are unaware that there ‎will be heavy skepticism about any nuclear deal with Iran, if it happens in the next ‎few weeks, from many corners. First and foremost, the skeptics and critics will ‎include members of the U.S. Senate, primarily Republicans, but also some ‎Democrats. This will be especially the case if the president follows through on what ‎seems to be his current plan to bypass the Senate and its responsibilities to ‎approve treaties, by claiming that any agreement with Iran is a multiparty ‎agreement, but not a treaty. Israel and several Sunni Arab nations are likely to be ‎very nervous about any deal with Iran that will undoubtedly be way oversold by ‎the administration in terms of any restrictions it actually places in the path for Iran ‎to a bomb. Given their suspicions about Iranian intentions, their history with ‎Iranian provocations, and the low likelihood Iran will behave in accordance with ‎any agreement it signs, these nations will likely see any deal as a surrender, ‎providing substantial sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for promises of a ‎continued slowdown in Iran's nuclear program, a slowdown reversible in short ‎order if the Iranians choose to break the deal.‎
The president receives very low approval scores for his management of foreign ‎policy, particularly as it relates to border security, immigration policy, the Ebola ‎outbreak, and ISIS. The Obama team thought they could coast to a nuclear deal ‎with Iran on the back of a string of "successes" -- the withdrawal from Iraq, the ‎coming withdrawal from Afghanistan, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and their hoped for ‎peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Things have gone south on every ‎front. Rather than peace, this summer saw another battle between Israel and ‎Hamas, this one longer and with heavier casualties than the previous two. The ‎Obama team has been busy at work for six years, trying to reorient and transform ‎American domestic politics vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israeli-Palestinian ‎relations. In this, he has largely succeeded outside of Congress, as left-leaning ‎media, academic and religious groups and Democratic partisans are now far ‎harsher toward Israel than was the case six years ago. The Democrats in ‎Congress have been pressured by the George Soros-backed lobbying group J ‎Street to support a policy of more administration pressure on ‎Israel for concessions to the Palestinians. So far few have formally abandoned their ‎ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for J Street, but pressure from activists is continuing.
When Democrats and Republicans in the Senate were signing on for a new ‎sanctions bill for Iran in case the negotiations broke down a year back, the heavy ‎pressure for Democrats to back off came directly from the White House in its usual ‎heavy-handed fashion, not from J Street. ‎
It now seems likely that the president may use both the Iranian track and the ‎stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to try to squeeze Israel to get at least some ‎of what it wants on both fronts. The Palestinian Authority has threatened to go to ‎the United Nations and demand a Palestinian state be established by a certain date, ‎effectively killing the possibility of any negotiated arrangement with Israel that ‎might achieve this. The Palestinians and their allies on the Security Council could ‎force the United States to use a veto to block such an action. The possibility of an ‎American abstention, which would allow such a resolution to pass, may be part of ‎the messaging that has been going on between the two countries in recent weeks. ‎The White House is clearly nervous that fierce opposition by Israel to what would ‎in almost all likelihood be a pathetically weak nuclear deal with Iran (they get ‎something substantive -- sanctions relief -- while the West gets almost nothing) could inspire ‎more pushback from Congress, and lead to a public relations problem for the ‎White House. ‎
It is in this light that Jeffrey Goldberg's article in The Atlantic, wherein senior ‎administration officials go on the record (though anonymously) to call Prime Minister Benjamin ‎Netanyahu a coward and a chickenshit should be seen. The White ‎House is making clear that Israel would be foolish to view the United States at this point as its backstop and defender. There will have to be give for ‎Israel to get. With no more elections facing the Obama team after November 4, the ‎White House will be at liberty to let the president show Israel where it stands if it ‎defies his will. Challenge him on the nuclear deal and there will be repercussions. ‎Continue to build Jewish housing in areas Obama thinks should be off limits, and ‎America might join with its European allies in U.N. condemnations. ‎Negotiate with the Palestinians and offer more to them or the administration will ‎lay out publicly its own plans, which are sure to resemble Saeb Erekat's.
There is no government that this administration hastreated as rudely and ‎cavalierly as Israel in its first six years. Undoubtedly, the worst is yet to come. Maybe unbeknownst to the ‎president, who seems to get his counsel from those who think he should have his ‎likeness sculpted on Mount Rushmore, there is still widespread support for Israel ‎among Americans. Despite the media coverage of the recent war in Gaza, which ‎primarily emphasized Palestinian civilian casualties, every public opinion survey ‎stillindicates strong support for Israel, though predictably it has weakened among younger Americans ‎‎(who are more racially diverse) and those on the Left, particularly whilefighting is ‎going on. ‎
If the president wants to launch a frontal assault on Israel, and makes clear his ‎abandonment of the traditional alliance and ties between the two countries, it will ‎not go down smoothly. There are many who understand that the strength of the ‎ties that bind are a lot tougher than a narcissistic president in legacy-building mode ‎at Israel's expense. Obama will leave office and a new president, less ‎transformative but almost certainly more capable, will then have to pick up the ‎many pieces left shattered. An Iran with the bomb, however, is a different kind of ‎humpty-dumpty, and the next White House occupant may find that permanent ‎damage has been done. Iran has not changed, but America under Obama has. ‎Obama's pressure on Israel not to strike Iran before the 2012 presidential election ‎may have aided Obama's re-election effort but it damaged Israel's prospects for ‎keeping Iran from going nuclear. The president has once again shown Netanyahu his "appreciation," this time with the childish name-calling by ‎his aides. We are in for an ugly confrontation, and Israel will soon find out the ‎identity of its real American friends and whether they are willing to take on the ‎president. Hopefully, a few more of them will be elected on November 4.

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