Shadow Government

The U.S. should get help from Britain on Palestinian statehood

How serious is U.S. President Barack Obama about averting a theatrical United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood next week? We know that the United States has said it will veto any such vote, but the famously anti-Israel U.N. General Assembly may still take the vote forward in a way that is more symbolic than binding. Given the potential consequences of any such vote, the Obama administration should be flexing all its diplomatic muscle to ensure that it does not stand alone against this reckless and provocative move.

Tensions in Egypt remain high as the government (such that it is) battles to satisfy young protesters and keep the country safe at the same time. Libya is at a historic crossroads, with the West hurrying to fix up some signposts. Syria continues its brutal crackdown, seemingly undisturbed by Western sanctions and rhetoric. Turkey is flexing its muscles as a new power broker, and Iran continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program. Amid this melting pot of hope and turmoil, the region's strongest democracy, Israel, is isolated and weakened and in need of its friends.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron repeatedly refuses to be drawn on how his government intends to vote at the United Nations. This is what he told David Frost on Al Jazeera earlier this week:

Britain and America are very, very strong allies. We work together on so many things. In this job you really see the benefits of the huge cooperation and the work that we do. But on this issue there have been times when we've voted in different ways, particularly on the settlement issue, and Britain will always do what it thinks is right.''

Britain has taken a leading role on the world stage since this coalition government was formed in May 2010, not least of course in the Libyan intervention. Throughout the tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa, Cameron has repeatedly supported calls for democratic reform and pluralization in the region. This leadership is at odds with his failure to articulate his government's position on the matter of Palestinian statehood. Neither he nor his ministers will be drawn into anything other than generalities.

Is this a "good cop, bad cop" routine devised by the United States and Britain, or is it simply that the British government no longer stands so firmly with the Middle East's strongest democracy? By refusing to make its position clear, Britain is playing a risky game. True alliances in the Middle East are hard to come by, and I understand from private sources that the Israelis are dumbfounded by the lack of support from old friends, particularly Britain.

And the Israelis are right to be worried. The Palestinian Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States, Maen Areikat, said this week that their future state should be free of Jews. He said, "It would be in the best interest of the two peoples to be separated." This prompted former Bush administration Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams to describe the ambassador's sentiment as "a despicable form of anti-Semitism," adding that "no civilized country would act this way."

With rhetorical tensions at an all-time high, the United States must increase its efforts to persuade the British government to reject calls for Palestinian statehood. If the Britain still counts Israel as a key regional ally and still believes in a negotiated peace, this is the only course of action open to David Cameron.

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

What does Rick Perry have to say about Afghanistan?

The Republican presidential debate in Florida on Tuesday focused again on jobs, taxes, and healthcare, with virtually no mention of Afghanistan, which is the United States' third-largest military deployment since Vietnam and fifth-largest since World War II. There was only passing mentions of terrorism, Iran, or China. This is especially odd given that the President does not have the power to create jobs, change the U.S. tax code, or revamp the health care system -- which is the burden of the private sector and the U.S. Congress, respectively -- but he does have the authority to conduct foreign policy and command the armed forces.

The debate contained just one back-and-forth on Afghanistan between Jon Hunstman, about whom the less said the better, and Rick Perry. This is Perry's first public comment on Afghanistan that I've seen of any length. Here it is, according to the CNN transcript:

[I]t's time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country's military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home, and continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need.

Perry advocates for a troop withdrawal "as soon and obviously as safely as we can," which probably means he is not in favor of a withdrawal at the price of outright defeat. He is also open to some kind of residual U.S. military presence, presumably for ongoing training and counterterrorism operations. He wants to complete the responsible transition to Afghan security forces. I'm not sure what he is getting at about delivering foreign aid with 100,000 troops with targets on their backs -- perhaps he is saying he is skeptical about how effective foreign aid can be in a country with an ongoing conflict, which makes sense. But then he is also in favor of continuing to help build infrastructure, presumably military infrastructure like roads, airports, and bases to help the Afghan security forces, and vital economic infrastructure, like roads (again) and electricity, to help the Afghans achieve economic self-sufficiency. I admit I'm reading a lot into his remarks, but that is always the case with transcripts.

All in all, Perry seems to be in company with Romney, articulating a cautious willingness to persist in Afghanistan, complete the transition to Afghan lead, yet be realistic about what's achievable there. The two leading candidates have staked out a middle position between, on the one hand, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, who advocate withdrawal regardless of the consequences, and, on the other, Michelle Bachman, who in an earlier debate seemed to advocate for persistence regardless of the cost (and who I suspect would be joined by Rick Santorum). The Perry-Romney position has the advantage of being both decent policy and, I think, good politics.

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