1) Doomed to repeat
Michael Rubin who served as an advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, sees the Obama administration repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration. In In Syria, the Same Mistakes, Rubin writes:
President Obama also seems slow to understand that, just as in Iraq, regional states play a subversive role. The Free Syrian Army has arrested dozens of Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen pretending to be pilgrims. Damascus has its shrines, but to be a religious pilgrim in war-torn Syria is like heading to Newark for its skiing.
Turkey, too, is playing a double game: Syrians accuse Ankara of supporting hardline Islamists to undercut secular Kurds. Qatar is today a financier for most radical religious factions. Rosy descriptions of the Syrian opposition repeat the Bush-era triumph of wishful thinking over reality.
The formation of the Syrian Opposition Council, praised by Obama for its inclusiveness, replicates another Iraq mistake: Confusing democracy of process with democracy of result. The instinct that inclusion promotes democracy is often wrong. Some groups will ride the democratic wave only so far as it suits them, and then return to their guns.
The domination by the Muslim Brotherhood of the new military council mirrors the movement’s leading position in the new civilian leadership body – the Syrian National Coalition. The leader of this coalition is Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib, former Imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
Khatib is closely associated with the Damascus Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The leader of the new coalition has a long history of antisemitic, anti-western and anti-Shia remarks (he praised Saddam Hussein, for example, for ‘terrifying the Jews’ and wrote an article asking if Facebook was an ‘American-Israeli intelligence website.’) He is also an admirer of the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Within the body headed by Khatib, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syrian National Council controls around 27 of the 65 seats on the executive body of the new coalition. There are also Islamists and fellow travelers among the non-SNC delegates. The Brotherhood are by far the best organized single body within the coalition. One secular delegate at the first full meeting of the coalition accused the MB of “pushing more of its hawks into the coalition, although it already has half of the seats.”
2) Is Chuck roast?
Thomas Friedman joins Steven Walt in supporting the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. (In Twitter, Friedman’s view is supported by the likes of David Rothkopf, Robert Wright and Trita Parsi. We have the spectacle of anti-Israel activists endorsing Friedman’s columns because he argues that Hagel would be good for Israel.) In Give Chuck a chance, Friedman writes:
The disgusting is the fact that because Hagel once described the Israel lobby as the “Jewish lobby” (it also contains some Christians). And because he has rather bluntly stated that his job as a U.S. senator was not to take orders from the Israel lobby but to advance U.S. interests, he is smeared as an Israel-hater at best and an anti-Semite at worst. If ever Israel needed a U.S. defense secretary who was committed to Israel’s survival, as Hagel has repeatedly stated — but who was convinced that ensuring that survival didn’t mean having America go along with Israel’s self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution — it is now.
Now of course, describing the Jewish lobby wasn’t just a slip of the tongue. Taken together with his assertion that he was doing the Constitution’s bidding, not Israel’s and there’s a very strong case that Hagel was impugning the motives of his detractors. That’s not a smear. (Given the prevalence of editorials and op-ed in the New York Times prior to the election, decrying the possibility of too much Israeli influence in a Romney administration, columnists for the Times probably aren’t the best arbiters of what’s an offensive smear.)
So if Hagel’s views on Israel are off-limits what’s a legitimate criticism of potential Secretary of Defense?
The legitimate philosophical criticism of Hagel concerns his stated preferences for finding a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program, his willingness to engage Hamas to see if it can be moved from its extremism, his belief that the Pentagon budget must be cut, and his aversion to going to war again in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, because he has been to war and knows how much can go wrong. Whether you agree with these views or not, it would be nothing but healthy to have them included in the president’s national security debates.
The Washington Post such a case against Hagel, without even mentioning Israel.
Mr. Obama has said that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that containment is not an option. Mr. Hagel has taken a different view, writing in a 2008 book that “the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does.” The former senator from Nebraska signed on to an op-edin The Post this September that endorsed “keeping all options on the table” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But Mr. Hagel has elsewhere expressed strong skepticism about the use of force.
We share that skepticism — but we also understand that, during the next year or two, Mr. Obama may be forced to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program. He will need a defense secretary ready to support and effectively implement such a decision. Perhaps Mr. Hagel would do so; perhaps he would also, if installed at the Pentagon, take a different view of defense spending. (Mr. Hagel declined through a spokesman to speak to us about his views.)
What’s certain is that Mr. Obama has available other possible nominees who are considerably closer to the mainstream and to the president’s first-term policies. Former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy, for example, is a seasoned policymaker who understands how to manage the Pentagon bureaucracy and where responsible cuts can be made. She would bring welcome diversity as the nation’s first female defense secretary.
Rich Lowry writes against the Hagel nomination:
Hagel believes that a breakthrough of understanding with some of the most recalcitrant dictatorships in the world is always one earnest conversation away. So, he wanted to talk directly to Hamas, Assad, and the mullahs. The correctness of this policy impulse is non-falsifiable because if it doesn’t work, its failure is attributed to insufficient effort on our part. If only we talked more and backed Israel less.
There is much to be said for Hagel’s warnings prior to the Iraq War that the conflict would have unintended consequences. So it did — horrifying ones. But, at the end of the day, Hagel voted for the war. Then, he opposed the surge as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”
This combination makes him either a gutless dove or a foolish hawk, or maybe a little of both. If the war is a historic mistake, don’t vote to authorize it. If you have voted to authorize it, don’t oppose the one way to save it from becoming an utter fiasco.
Friedman might have a case if he considered Hagel’s whole record. But of course he didn’t. He cherry picked the parts he liked. Hagel’s biggest fault may not be that he’s anti-Israel, it might be his incoherence, as Lowry illustrates. While Friedman thinks that having someone who thinks differently from the rest of the administration might be a good thing the Washington Post shows how it could be a handicap. (Another possibility is that Hagel is in tune with the President’s views, and, in a second term, the President might not find himself as constrained by existing foreign and defense policy consensuses as he did in his first. Hagel’s potential nomination might be a signal of the President’s intent.)
If Friedman wants to convince that Chuck Hagel is really pro-Israel, he ought to write a column that gets the support of Israel’s known supporters not its detractors.