Karzai, Bibi, And Netanyahu

by Martin Peretz | April 4, 2010

I know that a lot of people in my crowd don't like Frank Rich. But I happen to find even some of his excesses entertaining. Yes, he is of the somewhat ritualized left. Still, he is also literate and smart, often 
hitting on insights almost coincidentally.

"It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Obama" in today's Times is his meditation on the president that actually reads like a conversation between one
Rich and another.


Deep into his column he momentarily fixes on what he calls Obama's "challenging" of "Karzai and Bibi." Rich makes nothing of the similarities of the challenging or of the differences between. But I make much of both.

The news outlets focused on Obama's impatience with the Afghani president's
 infidelity to the United States and its 100,000 troops in the country trying to prop up Karzai's endlessly corrupt regime. Some of it, of
 course, derives from the unreliability of his putative allies, one day on 
his side, the next on the side of his enemies. Loyalty is also not something on which the U.S. can depend from its Muslim
brothers-in-arms. Anywhere. And certainly not in Afghanistan.

President Obama is stuck with Afghanistan and its American-empowered rulers. This was not his war of choice but his war of necessity, a moral
divide designated as such by what the Democrats saw as the confluence of strategic need and strategic opportunity. Even the young and passionate
anti-war enthusiasts who campaigned for him (as my son did in Ohio) allowed
 themselves to chant "yes, we can" at the candidate's exhortations on to
Kabul. As my readers know, given the world as it is, I am prone to a
 forward, even aggressive foreign policy and certainly in both Iraq and
Afghanistan.

Frankly, I fear with Tom Ricks, as I wrote a few weeks ago, a
withdrawal from Iraq of American troops for which the administration seems to be very much on schedule. It is as if the president is so intent on
keeping George Bush's war a disaster that he seems to resent even the
progress that has been made in the country since own his term began. I write this with fright from the latest news in Iraq. "25 Members of Sunni Family Killed Near Baghdad" reads the headline over a New York Times article reporting the cold-blooded murder of an 
extended family, some by gunfire, others by slit throats. I doubt that this 
atrocity was committed by Shi'a. It reads to me like the deed of Sunni
fanatics.

And, then, as I write, the Times reports about three "successful" 
suicide bombings, taking a yet unknown number of lives (but apparently
plenty) and two bombings that failed, one leaving its 17 year old 
perpetrator injured and the other leaving two terrorists dead.

But back to Afghanistan and to its president, Karzai. He is scum. What 
America does with the president's war of necessity and him as its 
designated ally is not something I have enough knowledge or insight to
 advise anyone about. Yet I did notice--how could anybody have missed it?--that in the week before Obama's arrival in Afghanistan Karzai had visited Dr. A'jad in Tehran and then the little Persian thug had visited guest in return. How could anyone have missed this exchange of social calls? Well, almost everybody did. The president of Iran was, well, the president of 
Iran, phobic, more than slightly mad, anti-Western and anti-Jewish in the
extreme.

So why didn't Obama take this up with Karzai? Is it not a significant
 index of the Afghani president's aspirations for his place in the
world? Is not his affinity, although being a Sunni, for the Shi'a extremist a reflection of something endemic in the Muslim orbit as a
whole? Is Obama still loathe to draw lines between himself and Ahmadinejad
 lest he ruin the reset of American relations with the religious fanatics
who tyrannize and brutalize Persian civilization. And why won't President
Obama for once--and even just for once--speak up for the democracy of
Israel, for the civilization of the Jews, for the contributions that both 
have made, one to the modern world and one to ethical theory, to the very
 concept of law itself, to enterprise, to science, to learning and to social justice. You ask me. I ask you.

Let us then approach Obama's orchestrated assault on Bibi Netanyahu, an ignominious and insulting assault, sending one underling after another out to beat up on the Israeli prime minister. Including David Axelrod, who knows very little about Israel and Palestine and, for that matter, the Arab orbit and the world of Islam. And I am afraid that Obama knows little more, aside from the grand historical mistakes with which his staff has outfitted him.

The administration's attack on Netanyahu was unrelenting for weeks and
cravenly taken up by the press which seems to think that all that is needed
for peace to break out is for Israel to stop building apartments in east 
Jerusalem. The fact is that Obama's fixation on the restriction of new 
construction in settlements (they are just neighborhoods after all) was a
 new trope for an American president. Maybe, if he had been able to offer the Israelis some Palestinian concession in exchange, Obama might have elicited a favorable response.

Instead, the president and his people offered "proximity talks," a nearly 
century-old Arab formula for negotiations in which the Arabs do not confer with the Jews but commune with outside powers. Frankly, I was surprised
 that Bibi did not say "not on your life." Now, as then, doom is the realistic outcome of this.

We know more or less what the president, in his mixture of ignorance and self-confidence (which usually go together), wants from Israel. We do not know what the president expects from the Palestinians or from the other
Arabs who are happy to issue statements, sometimes sounding benevolent, more often belligerent. In the meantime, the Obami talk about Palestine as if it includes all of the West Bank and Gaza. But at 6:12 Greenwich Mean Time there is no sign of Gaza joining up with Judea and Samaria, as the Zionists call it. And my guess is that Hamas will take over Ramallah sooner rather than later, sooner certainly than when Fatah rules in Gaza City. Of these likelihoods and probabilities you hear from the president exactly nothing.


The Obama administration's chastisements of Netanyahu were so suffused with
rancor that one hardly needs to wonder what motivated them. Israel was 
telling the president that peace cannot be entered into as a function of his caprice. That is the truth. 

* I’ve changed this item to fix language that I regret.

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