The State Department’s Syria Revolt

June 22 2016

Last week, over 50 U.S. diplomats submitted an official letter of protest criticizing the White House’s Syria policy and calling for air strikes and bombardment to enforce the U.S.-sponsored cease fire and protect civilians. Elliott Abrams comments:

Diplomats rarely do this sort of thing—official, written dissents—because it is not generally good for their careers.

A cynic might note that in this case, the Obama administration has only six months to go, and the policies being proposed are not far from those supported by Hillary Clinton. But I would not be so cynical. I think this memo reflects anguish and disgust by dozens of career diplomats (I will bet every single one of whom voted for [Obama]), and I wish the president were sufficiently open-minded and humble to ask himself how we got to this place. He is not, but this is nevertheless a moment worth reflection.

There are eight million refugees and displaced persons and perhaps 400,000 dead in Syria, a reassertion of Russian power, and an extensive presence of Hizballah and Iranian forces. Those are the fruits of the president’s policy—a policy that in 2012 Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff rejected when they recommended that the United States support the rebels. But Obama [in turn] rejected all that advice.

Career diplomats in the State Department, in my experience, do not run around calling for bombing campaigns very often. Unsurprisingly, they usually call for diplomacy—but at least in this case are able to see that diplomacy unsupported by strength is foolishness, mere words, not a policy but a substitute for policy. They have manned the desks handling Mr. Kerry’s Syria negotiations in Geneva, and been embarrassed by the effort.

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More about: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Politics & Current Affairs, State Department, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank