Shadow Government

Obama's Faulty Logic on Gaza Is Going to Hurt U.S. Standing All Across the Middle East

As Israel seeks to end Hamas's latest war against it, the Obama administration flounders. In fact, the response of the president and his secretary of state has made the situation positively worse with regard to every relationship we have in the region. Opponents of terrorism and supporters of Israel struggle to understand the administration's approach. Is it incompetence, or a continuation of this president's determination always to be above the fray -- as though the United States' only legitimate role is to midwife peace at any price rather than pursue policies that benefit it and its allies while defeating our enemies? A brief look at the actions in this conflict clarifies the question, even if it doesn't answer it.

Start with the facts: Whatever one thinks about Israel's overall actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians over the decades, Hamas has chosen to launch yet another illegal war by attacking Israeli citizens. No credible case in international law can be made for Hamas's rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. Hamas is in the position it is in now because, unlike the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas, it remains a terrorist organization supported by Iran. Having gained some political power via the ballot box in 2006, it then launched a coup in 2007 to get all of the power in Gaza and keep it forever. Its refusal to recognize Israel and lay down its weapons (at the insistence of every legitimate actor in the world) makes it a pariah, an enemy of the peace. In short, it is an outlaw regime and organization.

Israel, on the other hand, is a democratic nation-state, a member of the United Nations (for all the good that does Israel), and a willing participant in countless efforts to establish peace. It not only has acceded to the Abbas government's political authority over the West Bank but it has even aided and supported it. In short, it is a member of the community of democratic states and a highly successful economic power even though it has to fight every day for its existence, surrounded as it is by hostile states and groups who would eliminate it from the map.

It should not be difficult for any U.S. administration to tell the good guys from the bad guys, nor to understand who our allies are and where our interests lie.

In fact, it is so clear to others that the Egyptian, Saudi, and Jordanian governments are in a de facto alliance with Israel in this current conflict, working to oppose Hamas and its supporter, Iran, even if they are not thrilled to be in this position. On the other side are Iran, Turkey, and the Qatari regime that has actively aided Hamas for years.

But tragically, the Obama administration's actions and assertions reveal it does not understand where U.S. interests lie or how to achieve them. Secretary Kerry and the president have repeated ad nauseam a non sequitur that amounts to the following: "Israel's civilians are being attacked by Hamas and Israel has a right to defend itself; therefore, both sides should show restraint and agree to a cease fire so that civilian lives can be saved." Some form of this mantra is repeated so often that we tend to overlook how meaningless it is because the assumptions that underlie the first clause make the last clause absurd.

We know from the context of this assertion that the administration, in its desire to end the killing, is acknowledging that Israel did not start the fight and that Hamas's actions are war crimes (no proper casus belli, targeting Israeli civilians and using Gazan civilians as shields). But by the end of the assertion the administration is treating both combatants as equally to blame for the war generally and for the deaths of civilians specifically, as though they each have to stop doing a bad thing and start doing a good thing so that the right state of affairs can be produced. But the right state of affairs the United States should seek is not for Hamas yet again to get away with an attack on Israeli civilians and to create conditions for Palestinian civilians to be killed. The right state of affairs is that Hamas is punished to the point of being militarily neutered, Israeli civilians are no longer threatened by tunnels and rockets, and Palestinian civilians are no longer human shields for Hamas. And that state of affairs is not achieved by the administration's call for a ceasefire, which is simply a punt. And we've had too many of those over the decades.

Last weekend, the illogical position fell to pieces when Hamas broke the fifth ceasefire by using tunnels and rockets to continue attacking Israel before the ceasefire was even two hours old. It was cringe-inducing to watch Dan Shapiro, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, tell Wolf Blitzer on Sunday that the U.S. call for a ceasefire had been a way stop the tunnel and rocket attacks. Even if one accepts the U.S. position that the terms of the U.S.-backed ceasefire meant Israel could continue to destroy the tunnels, it does not follow that Hamas's rocket caches were no longer an issue; rocket caches do not disappear at the declaration of a ceasefire. That was made clear when Hamas used them 90 minutes into last weekend's truce. At that point, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Obama administration "not to ever second-guess me again" on Hamas, having had all the illogical diplomacy he could stomach.

Why does the administration do this? To remain in favor with polite opinion in Europe and at the U.N.? To desperately reach an accord and be the hero? To prove that the United States' proper role is mediator and diplomatic grandee? Or is the administration in thrall to some misguided notion that to save its negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program the United States can't help deliver a deathblow to Iran's proxy in Gaza? It certainly does not follow its chosen path if it is trying to support our allies and defeat our enemies. Maybe it thinks that U.S. interests are found in reprising the British role of "perfidious Albion," but the world doesn't work that way anymore. The Obama administration is wrong; the world needs a leader who pursues peace by supporting the good guys and defeating, or at least vexing, the bad guys. It does not need policies and diplomacy that amount to a boon for Iran and other U.S. enemies while discouraging friends and harming our alliances.

Even the Washington Post, loathe to criticize the president, sees blundering in the administration's efforts. And in the U.S. government, only the Congress is getting it right, in bipartisan fashion. It has chosen sides clearly. Thank heaven it can achieve unity and pursue U.S. interests in this, even if it can't on other issues.


Shadow Government

New Challenges Keep Mounting for the U.S. Ambassador to NATO

Retired Gen. Doug Lute may have the most important job in Washington -- and he doesn't even live there. As the U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he lives in an estate in Brussels that, since 1984, has been known as Truman House, honoring U.S. President Harry S. Truman for his role in founding NATO. Built by the Michiels Family, Belgian chocolatiers who developed the Cote d'Or brand, it is now on the Secretary of State's Register of Culturally Significant Property. It was given to the U.S. NATO mission because, in the words of Mrs. Michiels, "Your country saved mine in World War II."

So why should we worry about NATO now, with the world on edge over so many other crises? The list seems endless: the shoot down of Malaysian Air 17, the threat of outright Russian intervention in Ukraine, Hamas' continued aggression against Israel, Israel's incursion into Gaza, the exodus of Central American children toward the U.S. border, civil war in Syria, Iraq's descent into chaos. This depressing litany of woe could get even worse before President Obama hands over the reins of government to a successor 30 months from now. Although the urgent tends to drive out the important in Washington, a good national security team at the NSC will ensure that the important issues are never dropped from the foreign policy to-do list. An important item during the remainder of President Obama's term is maintaining NATO's good health. However, Ambassador Lute faces three issues, which in combination could put the future of NATO in doubt: the end of NATO's engagement in Afghanistan, the military response to Ukraine, and intelligence support for the alliance.

Since 1948, NATO has been the cornerstone of peace and stability in Europe. The collective security provided by NATO has not come without a financial price, however, that American presidents have encouraged Europe to share more equitably. Defense burden sharing has nagged intra-NATO relations for decades, but in 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the United States, the alliance seemed to be worth every penny spent. On September 12, 2001, the North Atlantic Council concluded that the attacks the day prior had triggered the Treaty's collective defense provisions. NATO therefore invoked Article V, which calls for a unified response to an armed attack on any member of the alliance. The stress on NATO over the years has been considerable as individual countries responded within the limits of their sovereignty and laws. In a certain sense, the Afghanistan mission can be said to have been a high-water mark for the alliance. As we look ahead, however, the prospects in Afghanistan are far from good. As western forces prepare to depart, the Taliban is on the move and Afghan National Security Forces seem to be on the defensive. The situation inside Afghanistan could easily deteriorate and become the next Iraq. It's not too late to prevent such an outcome, but the myriad other crises threaten to relegate Afghanistan to the sidelines. With the results of a decade's effort in doubt -- indeed with a human rights catastrophe very much in prospect -- recriminations within NATO are likely to flow. Was it worth it? If this scenario were untroubled by other factors, it would be an easier management task for Ambassador Lute. But two additional factors do come into play, making his task more rigorous.

By now, Vladimir Putin has made clear that he holds the West in contempt and will do whatever he deems necessary -- and whatever he can get away with -- to reassert Russian control over parts of the former Soviet empire he considers vital. Not for him the democratic process or transparent politics, since the big lie and the masked militiaman now define Russia's policy. Here again, the response from the West may appear more positive. Harsh sanctions have now been imposed on Russia, demonstrating a shared Western interest in punishing Russia -- or at least Putin's cronies -- for the aggression. But European business interests, combined with the consequences of over reliance on Russia's energy exports make the response highly contingent. The economic sanctions may bite, but it is unlikely that the EU or the United States will look to NATO for a military answer to Putin's Ukraine aggression. What happens, however, if Putin applies the logic of his intervention in Ukraine to the Baltic States, all members of NATO? An unlikely contingency, perhaps, but as NATO member states collectively examine the possibilities, elements of doubt may creep in. Poland and other former Soviet satellites may be concerned about how much steel is in the NATO backbone. As with the Afghanistan issue, this by itself would not undercut confidence in NATO. But Ambassador Lute's work is now far more complicated as he seeks to reassure front line NATO partners in the face of Russian belligerency.

Finally, there is the issue of U.S. intelligence gathering, a fundamental pillar of NATO security. The self-appointed patriot, Edward Snowden, continues to enjoy the same benefits the British traitor Kim Philby once did, this time by the good grace of Putin rather than Nikita Khruschev, but the damage he wrought makes Ambassador Lute's work far more difficult. In addition, intra-NATO relations have also been damaged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to very publicly evict the U.S. intelligence chief from Berlin. An unfortunate and probably unnecessary contretemps that should have been resolved quietly between the two allies was subjected to screaming headlines and mutual embarrassment. The combination adds fuel to the fire of European rightists and leftists alike who share little ideologically but apparently quite a bit emotionally. Self-righteousness and playing to the galleries were too much in evidence when cool heads and discretion were needed.

As a result, Lute faces a trifecta of grievances as he endeavors to sustain a common front that has kept Europe safe, secure, and at peace since the Nazi regime made so painfully clear that Europe works best when Europe works within NATO's carefully defended walls. A month after international leaders gathered in France to recognize the 70th anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy, marking the beginning of the end of the Nazi era and the consequent liberation of all Europeans from the horror of Hitler, the sinews of European peace represented by NATO are being stretched. Good luck to Doug Lute as he works to sustain the spirit captured by Mrs. Michiels and ensure that this greatest of alliances remains unbroken.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images