Obama Team Debates Stance on Israeli Attack Threat

And another excellent analysis of the US-Israel-Iran triangle and the machinations within the new Obama administration concerning a possible Israeli ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Iran by Jim Lobe and Gareth Porter

A recent statement by the chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. David Petraeus, that Israel may decide to attack Iranian nuclear sites has been followed by indications of a debate within the Barack Obama administration on whether Israel’s repeated threats to carry out such a strike should be used to gain leverage in future negotiations with Tehran.

In the latest twist, Vice President Joseph Biden, who has been put in charge of the administration’s non-proliferation agenda, appeared to reject the idea. “I don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would [launch a strike],” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday. “I think he would be ill-advised to do that.”
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Dennis Ross’s Iran Plan

Had opponents of war relied on Robert Dreyfuss and Jim Lobe’s reports in the lead up to the Iraq war, instead of the defective analysis of Chomsky and others on the left, there is a chance the war may have been avoided. Here is a very important new report by Dreyfuss on Dennis Ross’s latest machinations. Also see this new post by Jim Lobe — by far the most sophisticated and astute analyst of the forces shaping US foreign policy — about Obama’s latest questionable appointment.

My personal view is that Obama does want rapprochement with Iran, for practical, strategic reasons if nothing else. So statements such as the one by Patrick Clawson at the end of this report need to be taken with a bag of salt. I think they are meant to undercut Obama’s diplomatic overtures by imputing them suspect intent.

When Dennis Ross, a hawkish, pro-Israel adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was elevated in February to the post of special adviser on “the Gulf and Southwest Asia”–i.e., Iran–Ross’s critics hoped that his influence would be marginal. After all, unlike special envoys George Mitchell (Israel-Palestine) and Richard Holbrooke (Afghanistan-Pakistan), whose appointments were announced with fanfare, Ross’s appointment was long delayed and then announced quietly, at night, in a press release.

But diplomats and Middle East watchers hoping Ross would be sidelined are wrong. He is building an empire at the State Department: hiring staff and, with his legendary flair for bureaucratic wrangling, cementing liaisons with a wide range of US officials. The Iran portfolio is his, says an insider. “Everything we’ve seen indicates that Ross has completely taken over the issue,” says a key Iran specialist. “He’s acting as if he’s the guy. Wherever you go at State, they tell you, ‘You’ve gotta go through Dennis.'”

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Syria Calling

Iran is a crucial factor motivating renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
Iran is a crucial factor motivating renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace. Seymour Hersh’s articles are always an event. In his latest he reveals among other things that Obama put pressure on Israel to stop its assault on Gaza for which Dick Cheney disparaged him as…well, ‘pro-Palestinian’. As usual, there is very little actual analysis in the report. Most of it is quotes from different high placed individuals, and Hersh very rarely alerts readers to the Israel lobby connections of most of his American interviewees. Over at MondoWeiss Jeff Blankfort observes that he is ‘no less sure than [he] was before that Israel does not want to negotiate a deal with Syria, only give the appearance of wanting to do so for global PR reasons. One of the reasons Erdogan was so furious at Peres is that two or three days before the attack on Gaza, Olmert had been meeting with Erdogan and that a deal between Syria and Israel had, according to him, been agreed upon and Olmert never said a word to Erdogan about the forthcoming attack even though he obviously knew about it and knew that it would be a deal breaker which was Israel’s intent and I believe one of the reasons for the attack on Gaza at that time. Assad knows all this and that is why he is so publicly willing to re-open the negotiations and to put the onus on Israel when it starts backing off. Assad is not about to turn its back on either Hezbollah or Hamas whatever happens because his support for both groups is the source of his prestige in the Arab world beyond the palaces of the Sheikhs. As far as Obama’s pressure on Israel to pull back before the inauguration, I’m not buying that as anything but an effort by the Repubs to damage him in the eyes of the lobby. Israel obviously intended to get the job over with quickly and before he took office and that he has still not pressured Israel to open its borders or hold back arms shipments tells me he is still in thrall to the lobby in keeping with the Democratic Party tradition.’

When the Israelis’ controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been “a lot closer than you might think.”

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The American Empire: A Finale

Where is America headed? The following is the text of Justin Raimondo’s talk in Paris on March 21, at the Prendre le Moyens de la paix au XXI siecle, (Prospects for Peace in the 21st Century) a conference sponsored by Bernardins College and the Sorbonne.

I am not cheered by the subject of my talk here today, which is the decline and fall of the American empire, first, because I am an American, and, second, because the description of America as an empire fits it all too well. When you remember that the American Revolution was fought against an imperial power, that the U.S. was born in a struggle against an occupying army, and that its victory against the British was an inspiration to anti-imperialist liberals everywhere, it is a shaming thing to have to come here to describe how it ended in tragedy, betrayal, and a short and ugly decline.

That decline was not written in the stars but made inevitable by the actions of individual men (and women!), the men and women who rule us, the elites in government and the corporate world, in the media and the white-collar classes. Their mindset was best summed up by an anonymous top White House official who spoke to journalist Ron Suskind, in answer to objections against the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policy of preemptive warfare:

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Obama’s Nowruz Message

This is significant. Despite the obligatory admonishments, Obama’s tone was respectful, and showed cultural sensitivity. The message has shortcomings, no doubt. But what is important is that he is bucking neocon/Israel lobby pressure to opt for engagement. As John Mearsheimer notes in his latest LRB piece, the Israel lobby may have won a tactical battle over Freeman, but the hysterical approach it employed has only brought more intense scrutiny to its activities. It is faltering. And here finally is proof. However, there is need for some caution. The US knows, as Andrew Bacevich points out, that its only consideration in Iraq now is how best to minimize the humiliation of its inevitable withdrawal.

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The Freeman Affair

In his latest piece for the indispensable TomDispatch, Robert Dreyfuss calls the Freeman affair ‘the Israel lobby’s Waterloo’.

Is the Israeli Lobby Running Scared?

Or Killing a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys
By Robert Dreyfuss

Is the Israel lobby in Washington an all-powerful force? Or is it, perhaps, running scared?

Judging by the outcome of the Charles W. (“Chas”) Freeman affair this week, it might seem as if the Israeli lobby is fearsome indeed. Seen more broadly, however, the controversy over Freeman could be the Israel lobby’s Waterloo.

Let’s recap. On February 19th, Laura Rozen reported at ForeignPolicy.com that Freeman had been selected by Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, to serve in a key post as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). The NIC, the official in-house think tank of the intelligence community, takes input from 16 intelligence agencies and produces what are called “national intelligence estimates” on crucial topics of the day as guidance for Washington policymakers. For that job, Freeman boasted a stellar resumé: fluent in Mandarin Chinese, widely experienced in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, and an ex-assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration.

A wry, outspoken iconoclast, Freeman had, however, crossed one of Washington’s red lines by virtue of his strong criticism of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Over the years, he had, in fact, honed a critique of Israel that was both eloquent and powerful. Hours after the Foreign Policy story was posted, Steve Rosen, a former official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), launched what would soon become a veritable barrage of criticism of Freeman on his right-wing blog.

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Why Hamas is no ‘extremist’

‘Revisiting the reasons for the Islamist Revolution,’ writes Alastair Crooke, ‘we need to understand that Hamas are the ‘moderates’, in a self-defeating western drama which has bequeathed a much more dangerous Middle East’.

In the mechanistic template imposed by western leaders on the Middle East, of ‘moderates’ who must be supported versus ‘extremists’ who must be isolated and undermined, Hamas has to be painted, by mechanical necessity alone, as ‘extremists’. Hamas has become the ‘extremists’ to answer in neat symmetry to the ‘moderates’ of Ramallah, who for other reasons American and European leaders wish in any event to support.

But such models, once generally accepted, force a deterministic interpretation that can blind its advocates to the perverse results of such narrow and rigid conceptualising: a defeated and humbled Hamas, western leaders suggested, was to be ‘welcomed’ as a blow to Hizbullah, which in turn represented a strike at Syria, which weakened Iran – all of which strengthened the ‘moderates’; and, the model implies, serves to make Israel safer. It is a narrative that has reduced the Palestinian crisis to no more than a pawn in the new ‘Great Game’ of an existential global struggle waged against ‘extremism’.

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