Some Lessons about Alliances, Human Rights, and North Korea from President Obama’s Iran Policy

June 13 2018

In the aftermath of the Singapore summit, Elliott Abrams reflects on what role human rights should play in U.S. policy toward “the most brutal regime on earth”:

[R]aising human-rights issues will not destroy the effort to change North Korea’s nuclear conduct. President George W. Bush raised freedom of religion repeatedly with Chinese leaders, and that did not prevent a working relationship. President Reagan put human-rights issues at the center of his relations with the Soviets, and that did not prevent remarkable progress in the relationship. . . .

[Furthermore], how we act toward North Korea must reflect who we are as Americans, even if the impact over there is slight. . . . The Trump administration must recognize that among our nation’s greatest assets is our association with the cause of liberty. Working for the peaceful expansion of the frontiers of liberty is not a sucker’s game, or a disadvantage or liability, or a waste of resources. It is in very concrete ways one of the greatest advantages of the United States in world politics. It is ultimately what ties allies like Australia, South Korea, and Japan to us: the knowledge that what we seek for them is what we seek for ourselves—peace, security, and liberty.

The alternative is to leave those allies, and others, with the sense that our relations with North Korea exclude them and their interests, which we have forgotten. That is what happened in the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran: close allies situated near Iran, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel, came to believe their own interests were simply being forgotten. We saw in 2009 that the Obama administration viewed protests in Iran askance, not as the people’s call for freedom but as an inconvenience to negotiations with the regime. Japan and other allies in Asia have critical security interests at stake in our relations with North Korea, and we should always give pride of place to maintaining close and longstanding alliances as we undertake to open new relationships with hostile powers.

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More about: Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iran, North Korea, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East