Foreign Policy

Obama stands up to Netanyahu

President Obama stood up to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in his Middle East speech, in which he defied the conventional wisdom, which holds that all efforts towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians are now at a standstill.

The fact is, though, he had to. Obama couldn’t let Netanyahu dictate the terms of the debate while in Washington, where the prime minister will address AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and Congress in the next few days. Nor could Obama wait until he spoke to AIPAC himself on Sunday, and miss the opportunity of a global audience that he had today.

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Men of honor

Like the old Politiburo-driven popular front of “violence inherent in the system!” polemic, the Republican punditry today are quickly dispatched to call the Obama victory a historic “Bush-Obama” drama.

Who are these guys kidding? The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld adventure was a journey to the end of the night and an American disgrace that will never be forgotten. Our best warriors and men of honor of both parties like Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), former NATO chief Wesley Clark and Colin Powell’s chief Col. Lawrence Wilkerson brought the strongest dissent. It was a hoax from the beginning, said Wilkerson. The invasion of Iraq was “the wrong war,” said Clark. This war will instead be remembered as beginning to go forth with some credibility when George W. Bush’s secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was thrown out of office and Robert Gates was brought forth to try and retrieve any remaining shreds of American character.

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Too much James Bond, not enough Henry Kissinger

If I had to grade President Obama’s interview with Steve Kroft on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night, I’d give him a C+.

I know that’s apt to annoy a lot of people. The president certainly came across as sober, human, decisive and effective. But in the end, he didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The interview was a bit too much James Bond and not enough Henry Kissinger.

Like all Americans, I was thrilled to hear Osama bin Laden met his fate last week and see America assert its influence in the Middle East. Still, the administration needs to resist viewing this successful battle as the end of the war. Coupled with the Arab Spring, the killing of bin Laden was certainly a significant blow to al Qaeda, but it remains largely symbolic. Placing too much weight on any one individual in our fight against Islamic fundamentalism is a dangerous path to start down. While bin Laden might have been the mastermind behind 9/11, it was the jihadist ideology he promoted that was at the heart of the attacks and continues to threaten us today.

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Why continue giving billions to Pakistan?

Why are we giving Pakistan billions each year in assistance for fighting terrorism if they're so outrageously bad at it?

Chump change? I don’t think so. Since 9/11, we’ve given over $18 billion in U.S. aid to the country. For 2011, another $1.8 to $2 billion is earmarked for the country. And what do we have to show for it?

Earlier this year, the country held one of our CIA agents, returning him only after we paid millions more in essentially a ransom to get him back. Relations are strained. And now the country’s leaders are saying the United States overstepped its authority and violated the sovereignty of the nation of Pakistan.

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What's next for US and Pakistan

The first anti-American demonstrations have already taken place in Pakistan, in the city of Quetta, which might have sheltered al Qaeda leaders in the past.

What's next for U.S.-Pakistani relations after the daring U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan by Navy SEALs? Anti-American sentiment has long been running high in Pakistan over the drone attacks along the border with Afghanistan and is now gaining traction in urban society. Pakistan’s charismatic opposition leader, Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician, has been stirring things up in recent days, warning that if the Predator attacks continue, Pakistanis would block NATO supplies to Afghanistan.

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Don't forget Iran

The Senate needs answers from Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta on Iran. With all the international focus on the Arab spring, what has escaped attention is the power struggle going on inside Iran between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his erstwhile protector, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Right now it looks like Khamenei is circling the wagons. He has slapped down Ahmadinejad, who showed signs of wanting to groom his chief of staff to succeed him as president. In the most obvious sign of displeasure, Khamenei overruled Ahmadinejad, who had sought the resignation of the intelligence chief, Heydar Moslehi. Ahmadinejad’s response was to disappear from public view and in the past week not to show up to chair two Cabinet meetings.

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Talking to myself and becoming frustrated

My recent harshness about the president comes because this is a bit of an “own goal.” We did not have to get involved. An Arab dictator is oppressing his people — that is hardly news and, unless our interests are directly involved, not our issue. Also, given the perilous state of our finances and our already full military plate, it is simply not prudent to indulge in superfluous actions. But, there I go again … once I get started on any logic train thinking about this I find myself banging the keyboard and crying out loud in frustration.

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What is our responsibility?

What responsibility do America and the rest of the Western powers bear for protecting the rights and lives of people whose oppressive governments we supported and empowered? Do we face a moral responsibility to intervene? What about the real practical financial limits we face as a nation swimming in immense debt and high unemployment?
 
Clearly we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, or the savior of all the world’s people. But are there long-term interests in terms of opening up these societies, in terms of securing a more righteous place in the emerging order, that it makes sense to invest in them at this time? And even if we agree that we bear some responsibility and interest, what should our response and action consist of?

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Acting like Gadhafi, you win

As rebel fighters flee under fire from a key town in eastern Libya, it’s now apparent that the Obama administration will not forcefully remove Gadhafi from power. Whew. Guess who’s resting easy in Tripoli! Sure, the Obama administration wants the tyrant tossed. Why else would U.S. warplanes be pounding his military? But dropping a hint and showing him the door are two different things. While allied forces convening in London today insist Gadhafi must go, they are clueless as to how they can achieve this end goal.

Hello out there?

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President Obama makes strong case for Libya action

You may not agree with him, but you must admit: President Obama made the case for American intervention in Libya strongly and clearly.

He told us why he authorized the use of military force, at the request of the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council: to stop the slaughter of the Libyan people by Gadhafi’s forces.

He reported our success so far in stopping Gadhafi in his tracks and turning all operations over the NATO. The U.S. will now continue our involvement only in a supporting role.

And he spelled out our ultimate goal: to continue diplomatic and financial pressure on Gadhafi until he is forced out of power — without using the U.S. military to achieve regime change.

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