So, after yesterday, there appears to be a little more clarity about who's gonna be doing what on Barack Obama's second term foreign policy team. If the latest reports can be trusted:
1) Susan Rice took herself out of the running for Secretary of State, but it looks like she'll be staying on as U.N. Ambassador, with a potential move to National Security Advisor at some point in the second term.
2) John Kerry is now the frontrunner to be Secretary of State
3) Chuck Hagel is now the frontrunner to be Secretary of Defense
4) Tom Donilon is staying on as National Security Advisor
5) CIA will go to either acting ditector Michael Morrell or deputy NSC advisor John Brennan.
My thoughts on these developments:
A) As someone with very little inside-the-Beltway knowledge, the Susan Rice denouement still raises more questions than it answers. In particular: i) Why was Benghazi such a big deal when she had zero operational authority and in no way lied when she appeared on the Sunday talk shows in September; ii) What the hell did she do to alienate Susan Collins (which appears to have been the pivotal moment)? iii) Why didn't the Obama White House offer up a full-throated defense of Rice or tell her to shut the hell up? Why the squishy, tepid support? iv) What was it about Rice that prompted so much bipartisan backbiting?
B) The changing norms of the Senate suggest the disturbing possibility that the only cabinet nominees who can sail through are.... former Senators. This is bad, bad, bad, bad, and bad for foreign policy. Cabinet officers are administrators and managers. Most senators haven't managed anything bigger than a legislative office. This isn't to say that all of them will do a bad job... but cofidence is not high. Narrowing the candidate pool like this harms the national interest.
C) If Chuck Hagel gets the nomination, it's gonna be one hell of a test of the Israel Lobby thesis. Eli Lake and Stephen Walt don't agree on much, but they do agree that Hagel is not really viewed as a friend of Israel... or at least Israeli uber-hawks. Hagel's overall foreign policy expertise/competence isn't a question, and as a former GOP senator it's going to be tough to make this a partisan issue. So... this is really an ideal test of the power of the so-called Israel Lobby. If AIPAC et al either don't oppose the nomination or oppose it and lose, that's a data point against Walt and Mearsheimer. If they oppose it and Hagel is withdrawn/goes down, it would be tough to deny that the power of AIPAC wasn't the crucial factor. As a social scientist, let me just say... pass the popcorn.
D) Actually, come to think of it, there is one other group that would likely oppose a Hagel nomination. Democratic policy defense wonks won't be thrilled with Hagel -- because it means one of their own won't get the job. If Hagel gets the nomination, then three of the last four Secretaries of Defense under a Democratic administration will have been Republicans. At a time when Democrats are acquiring a foreign policy/national security advantage over the GOP, this is not the best signal of party competency on defense matters. That said, a Hagel nomination would also be evidence that the GOP has pretty much shed all of the realists from its foreign policy team.
E) Hey, remember when the Secretary of the Treasury and the U.S. Trade Representative were significant foreign policy positions? Good times. Foreign economic policy got the short end of the foreign policy stick during Obama's first term -- it would be peachy if that changed. Wouldn't it be awesome if these positions got some nominees with political juice and the ability to move an ambitious foreign economic policy agenda through the system?
What do you think?
Buried within James Risen's interesting New York Times front-pager about the easing of Iran tensions is an even more interesting story about the deep weirdness that is going on within Israel's national security establishment on Iran:
At the same time in Israel, the conservative government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been rocked by a series of public comments from current and former Israeli military and intelligence officials questioning the wisdom of attacking Iran.
The latest comments came from Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, who on Friday said Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak should not be trusted to determine policy on Iran. He said the judgments of both men have been clouded by “messianic feelings.” Mr. Diskin, who was chief of Shin Bet until last year, said an attack against Iran might cause it to speed up its nuclear program.
Just days before, Israel’s army chief of staff suggested in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the the Iranian threat was not quite as imminent as Mr. Netanyahu has portrayed it. In his comments, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz suggested that he agreed with the intelligence assessments of the United States that Iran has not yet decided whether to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile,” General Gantz told Haaretz. He suggested that the crisis may not come to a head this year. But he said, “Clearly, the more the Iranians progress, the worse the situation is.”
Last month, Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, said he did not advocate a pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program anytime soon. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Mr. Dagan said the Iranian government was “a very rational one,” and that Iranian officials were “considering all the implications of their actions.”
As someone who thought the Iran rhetoric coming from Jerusalem was decidedly overheated, I nevertheless have more mixed feelings about these developments than, say, Peter Beinart. What's disturbing is that even though Israel's actual opposition party is evincing many of the same sentiments as the former military officers quoted above, they are not the ones moving the policy debate -- it's the ex-military/intel guys.
That's a problem. As much as candidates for higher office like to talk about "consulting the commanders on the ground" and the like, big decisions about national security policy should be the province of elected leaders. Civilians need to be in control of these decisions -- the moment that elected leaders give up this control, then the voters have forfeited the most vital decisions of a republic. This is why, in the United States, one of the rare sources of continuing bipartisan agreement is that when military commanders voice their policy opinions to the press in a way that contradicts the President, they need to be canned.
Now, recently retired military and intelligence officials are in a slightly different category, but there's still a danger here. I respect that these ;people should have a voice, particularly if they feel their country is on the precipice of a policy disaster -- but should their voice be louder than that of the main opposition party? I don't think so, and it's a sign that there's a problem with Israeli democracy if that's the case. I don't think this is entirely the fault of ex-IDF and Shin Bet leaders, mind you -- Netanyahu and Barak are part of the problem as well. Still, at least the latter people won elections and must go back to the voters again.
Developing... in a very problematic manner.
With all the "loose talk" involving Iran and Israel the past week, it seems like an excellent time to discuss the role of nationalist domestic audiences in exacerbating conflict. Now, there is a large literature on this topic in international relations: how audience costs can be used to make costly signals in crisis bargaining, how audience costs increase as crises escalate, how a world in which all countries have nationalist audiences creates an environment in which crises can spiral out of control, and how, in the information age, it has become increasingly difficult for foreign policy leaders to placate their domestic audiences without creating problems abroad.
Sure, I could do all of that in a very long-winded and tedious way. Or I can just embed Jon Stewart's opening bit from last night's Daily Show:
Thanks, Jon -- you saved me a good hour or two today.
Barack Obama addressed AIPAC yesterday in anticipation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, which has led to some interesting responses. There's something in Carol Lee and Jay Solomon's Wall Street Journal write-up that is worth considering in more detail, however:
Mr. Obama's efforts to recalibrate the administration's position—cooling talk of war while nodding to the concerns of hawks such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—won some applause, including from the Israeli leader. Some of Israel's strongest backers on Capitol Hill weren't appeased, however.
"I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say," Mr. Obama said Sunday at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group....
By clarifying the administration's willingness to use force, the White House also hopes to lessen the chance Mr. Netanyahu will order a unilateral strike.
Mr. Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday, praised Mr. Obama's speech and said it was an important step in unifying the U.S. and Israeli positions on Iran. "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," he said in a written statement.
Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, said the speech was "a step in the right direction," but that "we need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest." (emphasis added)
Now, this bolded part of the quote is quite extraordinary, if you think about it. Apparently, Cantor's standard with respect to American policy towards Israel is that the U.S. government cannot and should not contradict anything that Israel's government says. What's good for Israel's national interests -- as defined solely by Israel -- serves American interests as well.
Step back for a second and ask yourself if this is true of any other U.S. ally. A NATO member? Nah, we disagree with them all the time. Japan? Nope, there was a pretty bruising fight with that country's government on Okinawa bases just a few years ago. Canada? Hell, Mitt Romney pretty much made it clear that the U.S. is gonna get Canada's oil and I heard nary a peep of criticism from the GOP foreign policy establishment. I can't think of a Latin American, Pacific Rim or Central Asian ally that meets this criteria.
A few months ago, I asked whether, in the eyes of some, Israel was now the most super-special ally we have. I think statements like Cantor's are an excellent signal that the answer appears to be yes. So I hereby propose the following definition: if a prominent U.S. official or foreign policy commentator proposes a standard for U.S. policy towards Israel that would never be used for any other U.S. ally or treaty partner, then they have gone the full Cantor.
With the AIPAC conference going on this week, I hereby summon my readers to alert me to any further statements or criticisms that suggest the U.S. alliance with Israel is in a super-special, unique category that No Other Allies can join.
Ben Smith's story in Politico today focuses on the emergence of a more critical stance on Israel from Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. Or, as neoconservatve Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin interprets it, Smith "blows the cover off the anti-Israel left and the Democrats’ favorite think tank, the Center for American Progress, which harbors many of its shrillest voices."
What's interesting about Smith's story is his evidence for this tonal shift at CAP and Media Matters -- namely, tweets and blog posts.
The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs....
CAP officials have told angry allies that the bloggers don’t speak for the organization, and senior fellow Brian Katulis – whose work is more standard Clinton-Democrat fare – stressed that in an email.
“I think there are different voices on the Think Progress blog and some individual analysts - and some of that work, especially the blog, is I think aimed at reporting on and reflecting one aspect of the diversity of the views among the broad progressive community,” he said. “But what one blogger or analyst may write isn’t necessarily indicative of what our policy recommendations are for the administration or Congress when I’m doing meetings with our friends in government.”
The director of CAP’s national security program, Ken Gude, also drew a distinction between the blog, which is CAP’s loudest megaphone, and its less confrontational policy work.
“There’s a distinction here that we have between the policy work that we do and the blogging work that we do,” he said. Middle East Progress “is clearly a progressive blog and it does respond to arguments that are made most forcefully by conservatives and it responds in that way.”....
But the fact remains that the Center’s most audible voices on the Middle East aren’t the former Clinton staffers who populate much of the organization, and they come from different foreign policy traditions. Duss, a confrontational presence on Twitter but typically a more careful blogger, places himself in what’s sometimes called the “realist” stream of American foreign policy (emphasis added).
So, to sum up Smith's observations, what's driving this story is that when it comes to Israel, some of CAP and Media Matters analysts are really harsh on Twitter and pretty harsh on the blogs -- but the more substantive, traditional policy work doesn't look like that at all, so it's being overblown.
Rubin is having none of that:
[T]he scandal here is that CAP houses and provides a blog for such sentiments....
CAP is promoting this and is responsible for the venomous output on its blogs.
The excuse that these voices don’t represent CAP’s views and aren’t attributable to CAP is ludicrous....
Imagine if the bloggers were writing about the inferiority of a racial group. They’d be gone in a nanosecond. In fact, those who fancy themselves as respectable think tankers and loyal Democrats are enablers of the scourge of anti-Semitic filth that flows through the hard left. CAP has a choice: Clean out the sewer or be prepared to take the approbation that goes with the association with Israel haters and those who peddle in anti-Semitic tripe.
I don't agree with Rubin's characterizations of the content -- the material in question is not anti-Semitic (though it's problematic and borderline offensive) and CAP ain't "hard left." That said, she raises an interesting and valid point about what, exactly, is the output of a think tank. Is it the more traditional policy analysis? The blogs? The individual Twitter feeds of its denizens? In a Web 2.0 world, I have to wonder if the latter matters at least as much as the former (of course, the significance of tweets, etc., would have to apply to Rubin as well. Her own ombudsman, for example, blasted her for re-tweeing a link to "reprehensible" blog post containing "incendiary rhetoric").
There's a lot to consider here -- how a think tank brands itself, whether policy analysts can freely express themselves without being associated with their day job, and exactly how policy analysis is crafted. If, for example, someone develops a policy position in a path-dependent manner from instant tweet to somewhat-less-instant blog post to a memo/testimony that reifies those original statements, then Web 2.0 really matters. If, however, time leads one to modify or recalibrate the initial response -- as the statement of Duss suggests -- then Web 2.0 still matters, but in a different way. It matters only insomuch as the foreign policy community thinks that tweets and blog posts capture more attention and bandwidth than more conventional forms of policy analysis.
What do you think?
Congratulations to Reuters' Douglas Hamilton for winning this week's Vizzini Award. The award, for new readers of the blog, goes to someone who uses a term of phrase that clearly does not mean what they think it means.
If Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is toppled, Israel will lose one of its very few friends in a hostile neighborhood and President Barack Obama will bear a large share of the blame, Israeli pundits said on Monday.
Political commentators expressed shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness. (emphasis added)
Now, there is a purely
short-sighted short-term geopolitical logic out there to justify a stalwart defense of Hosni Mubarak. Claiming that support for legitimate Egyptian demands is an example of "political correctness" seems, well, completely and totally wrong-headed. The most one could say that the United States is now in the semi-awkward position of honoring its own high-powered rhetoric on democracy in the Middle East.
Even from a strictly realpolitik perspective, however, I'm not sure exactly what Israeli pundits think could be gained from backing Mubarak to the hilt. Before his Friday speech, most Obama administration statements were at least mildly supportive, calling the Egyptian government "stable" and denying that Mubarak was a "dictator." Mubarak's disastrous Friday address, however, dramatically raised the policy costs of backing a crackdown (not to mention that I'm not sure the Egyptian army could have pulled it off anyway). As Steve Walt notes on his blog:
To maximize their own security, states want allies that are strong, stable, and that do not cause major strategic problems for them (i.e., by getting into counterproductive quarrels with others). Other things being equal, states are better off if they don't have to worry about their allies' internal stability, and if an allied government enjoys considerable support among its population. An ally that is internally divided, whose government is corrupt or illegitimate, or that is disliked by lots of other countries is ipso facto less valuable than one whose population is unified, whose government is legitimate, and that enjoys lots of international support. For this reason, even a staunch realist would prefer allies that were neither internally fragile nor international pariahs, while recognizing that sometimes you have to work with what you have.
Or, to quote Michael Clayton, "there's no play here."
This story is still interesting, however, because it certainly represents a data point against the Israel Lobby argument for American foreign policy. Scanning this good Washington Post write-up from Karen DeYoung, what's interesing is the dog that isn't barking -- namely, not one mention of Israel.
I suspect this is partly because the prospect of Arab democracy causes a serioius split between Israeli strategists and neoconservative supporters in the United States. Or it could be because, you know, the explanatory power of the Israel Lobby thesis has been vastly exaggerated.
UPDATE: I see that Geneive Abdo argues over at the Middle East Channel that Egypt 2011 is not like Iran 1978/79. Meanwhile, for another data point that neoconservatives are splitting from Israeli strategists, consider this Max Boot post:
I am hardly one to romanticize ElBaradei or to underestimate the difficulties of dealing with him. But what do his critics propose we do anyway?
Encourage Mubarak to kill lots of demonstrators to stay in power? Because at this point, that is probably what it would take for Mubarak to remain as president. Yet it is not even clear at this juncture that he could employ violence to save himself, given the fact that the Egyptian army has announced it will not fire on the demonstrators.
So what should the U.S. do? Demand that ElBaradei step down as the leader of the protest movement? Any such demand would be laughed off by the demonstrators, who are certainly not going to let their tune be called by Washington. Whom, at any rate, would we want to replace ElBaradei? There is not exactly a surfeit of well-respected liberal leaders, which is why ElBaradei was able to become the leader of the anti-Mubarak movement after having spent decades away from Egypt.
Perhaps we should demand that ElBaradei disassociate himself from the Muslim Brotherhood? Again, such a demand would be ignored, and probably rightly so. It is hard to see how any figure can claim to represent all the protesters without also speaking on behalf of the Brotherhood, which is the country’s largest and best-organized nongovernmental organization.
Earlier today, we were given a tour of the Green Line and the physical barrier that separates Isreal proper from the West Bank (note -- the Green Line and the location of the barrier are not the same thing, which is a source of furious and intractable debate some mild contestation among the interested parties.)
We were driven to an overlook that contrasted a small Israeli settlement with the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. The settlement looks like a leafy exurb in the middle of a lot of brown, dilapidated neighborhoods. In case you were wondering, the material incentive for settlement housing is that it's 40 percent cheaper than living in Tel Aviv, the climate is more temperate, and it's still close to the city.
Our tour guide was a former IDF brigadier general, and without getting into specifics let's just say that he knew an awful lot about the West Bank. He gave us a brief lecture explaining the humanitarian issues that arose with the creation of the barrier, the security gains that came from it, the economic disparity between the Palestinian cities and the settlements, and so forth.
As he was talking, a second tour group showed up and the other tour guide started talking, also in English. I sidled up to the edge of that group to listen. The second guide's spiel was rather different. He talked about the dangers of disengaging from the West Bank, because of the possibility of a takeover by either Hamas of Hezbollah. Instability in Iraq and Jordan were also mentioned as possibilities.
Now this was a curious statement, given that Hezbollah is Shiite and based in Lebanon -- they have a tacit alliance with Hamas, but would be unlikely to find hospitable ground in the West Bank under any contingency.
It turns out that this tour was run by -- wait for it -- AIPAC. The guide was shepherding a group of Hispanic politicians around the country.
Take from this what you will.
I've received a bunch of e-mail queries asking me what I think of the Charles Freeman affair. One could argue that Freeman's actual policy positions got him into trouble. (When a letter to the Wall Street Journal on his behalf allows that "Chas has controversial political views, not all of which we share," it suggests that something is amiss). One could also argue pretty persuasively that the Israel Lobby flexed its muscle (as Freeman himself argues in his missive to FP's Laura Rozen).
In the wake of Freeman's withdrawal, I think everyone is vastly overestimating the influence of outside forces and underestimating the idiosyncracies of Freeman in trying to interpret what the hell happened. I don't mean his positions -- I mean his relative eagerness to get back into the game. Freeman's statements on the matter suggests that he was not all that eager to re-enter government life:
"As those who know me are well aware, I have greatly enjoyed life since retiring from government. Nothing was further from my mind than a return to public service. When Admiral Blair asked me to chair the NIC I responded that I understood he was “asking me to give my freedom of speech, my leisure, the greater part of my income, subject myself to the mental colonoscopy of a polygraph, and resume a daily commute to a job with long working hours and a daily ration of political abuse.” I added that I wondered “whether there wasn’t some sort of downside to this offer.”
Sometimes these statements are boilerplate, but I don't get that sense from Freeman.
To put it another way -- if Hillary Clinton had been in the same situation as Freeman, there's no way in hell that she withdraws her name.
Steve Walt claims that, "this incident reinforces my suspicion that the Democratic Party is in fact a party of wimps." He's got a point, but I'm not sure it's the one he intended to make. Freeman is just one of a longer list of policy wonks -- Wendy Sherman, Caroline Atkinson, Robert Gallucci, etc. -- who have either declined or changed their minds about high-ranking postings. While none of these other names were targeted by the Israel Lobby, they all found the opportunity costs of entering goverment service too onerous.
Question to readers: Has the vetting process in DC become too absurd, or are Obama's subcabinet candidates too thin-skinned?
The Boston Globe has a little piece following up the bogus controversy started by Jonathan Chait when he wrote that Steve Walt did not hurt his career by writing, The Israel Lobby. Chait is wrong, and either foolishly misleading, or fraudulently so. A statement on this matter from the New Republic, which called Walt an antisemite, has the same authority as, say, Roy Cohn's opinion on whether there was a blacklist in Hollywood. Now Daniel Drezner has taken up the issue, in a further motion of deceiving the public about the power of the Israel lobby.
Some day maybe I'll tell these academics about New York journalism...
Weiss doesn't have any contact information on his blog, so I'll just ask him here. Please do tell me about New York journalism. Seriously. I want to know what evidence Weiss has for his claims beyond mere assertion.
And, in the process, I'd love for Weiss to describe exactly what I said in my bloggingheads exchange that was, "a further motion of deceiving the public about the power of the Israel lobby." He seems to think that I was refuting the notion that The Israel Lobby cost Walt a DC job. I'm pretty sure I said that Walt not getting a DC job is an overdetermined outcome, of which publishing The Israel Lobby is certainly one viable explanation. Weiss' evidence for this explanation, a quote from Walt, is not particularly persuasive. There are many other explanations, some of which might be less flattering to my esteemed co-blogger.
Some day, maybe, I'll tell those New York journalists about the academic-policymaker pipeline...
As much as I love doing bloggingheads, this is the second time in two months someone has twisted what I said way out in one of those diavlogs of context. I attribute this to be an occupational hazard of moving to Foreignpolicy.com.
Damn you, Moises Naim!! Damn you to hell!!!
I've been trying not to wade into The Israel Lobby waters, but this argument from Stephen Walt about why the book was panned in the United States caught me short:
Douthat is correct that the mainstream reviews of the book [in the United States] were mostly negative, which is hardly surprising if one looks at who was chosen (or agreed) to review it. Given the hot water that Zbigniew Brzezinski got into when he said a few nice things about our original article, one can understand why people who liked the book might have been reluctant to say so in print.
In fact, the pattern of reviews does allow for an admittedly crude test of one of our arguments. We showed that people who criticize Israeli policy or the influence of the Israel lobby are virtually certain to face a firestorm of criticism and personal attacks in the United States. This is partly because such tactics are part of the standard MO for some key actors in the lobby, but also because mainstream media in the United States have tended to be protective of Israel in the past (this may be changing somewhat now). If we are right, one would expect mainstream reviews of our book in the United States to be negative, but reviews elsewhere should be more favorable. And that proved to be the case.
Let's label the above explanation the Cliff Poncier Hypothesis. This certainly could be one explanation for why The Israel Lobby got panned in the United States. To be sure, some of the reviews didn't seem to understand how political science works.
Just for the sake of argument, however, I can think of at least two other possible explanations for this particular distribution of reviews:
I'll let the readers be the judge of which hypothesis best explains the pattern of reviews.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.