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Colin Kahl’s nomination will be a disaster for Israel and the region

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For many years, American and Israeli leaders were rightly proud of repeating the mantra that excellent relations between the two nations was a bipartisan issue in Washington. Obviously, for a variety of reasons, that truism has faltered in recent years even while remaining broadly accurate.

However, the nomination of Colin Kahl for undersecretary of defense for policy could change that.

Kahl’s resume is impressive on paper. His most recent administration appointments were as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2011 and as then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser from 2014 to 2017.

Nonetheless, with so much experience comes little to no achievement, only unmitigated disaster. On his major remit in the Middle East, every policy issue has been shown to be a failure. Whether it was trying to press Israel into concessions during the Obama administration, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the infamous inaction on Obama’s “red line” on Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Kahl was intensely involved — and tried to justify them all.

Now he is on the verge of returning to a prominent policy position, just as the region is moving forward away from conflicts that have raged for a century.

First, there is something incredibly ironic that the same people who sneered at the appointment of Jared Kushner as former President Trump’s point person on the Middle East — who ended up brokering four historic Arab-Israeli peace agreements — but cheer the appointment of someone with decades of experience and nothing to show for it except failure.

While failure can be excused, not learning from mistakes should not be.

After returning to the think tank circuit during the past administration, Kahl became a keyboard warrior who slammed decisions the Trump administration made that seemed contrary to his own opinions.

Kahl referred to Republicans who defended Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria in 2019 as those who “debase themselves at the altar of Trump — they are the party of ethnic cleansing.” He said Republicans who upheld Trump’s veto in favor of Saudi Arabian arms sales “share ownership of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. In 2018, he tweeted that “we are all going to die” if John Bolton becomes national security adviser.

In other words, here was a man who got hysterical over any issue that seemed to turn against his general policy of appeasing America’s enemies and constricting its friends. However, Kahl appears to reserve a special opprobrium for Israel.

When Trump prudently brought the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal that was falling apart in the face of Iranian defiance, Kahl tweeted: “So far, Israel’s plan has worked perfectly.” 

Kahl long had been suspected by, among others, Middle East expert Lee Smith, as being the architect of the Obama strategy away from prevention of an Iranian nuclear bomb, to mere containment, thus allowing the ayatollahs a pathway to make good on their threat of wiping the State of Israel off the map.

Equally egregious is the role Kahl was reported to have played in the removal of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from the Democratic National Convention (DNC) platform. When questioned about this during his recent Senate hearing, Kahl tried to deflect and distract, without answering the question directly.

Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital long has been a consensus on both sides of the aisle, a few voices notwithstanding. It is not to make a statement about the future of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; it is mere recognition of where a close friend and ally designates its own capital.

Ever since the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which had overwhelming support in the Senate (93–5) and the House (374–37), U.S. administrations have affirmed the principle of Jerusalem as the capital city of the State of Israel, even while utilizing the built-in veto on moving the American embassy there, until Trump did so.

Ensuring that one party deviated from this bipartisan stand could be seen by many as the beginning of the Democratic move away from Israel. Only a last-minute intervention by former President Obama rectified this glaring error in the DNC platform, but the damage was done.

To now place such a hyper-partisan policy wonk back into a position of authority hurts, first and foremost, U.S. interests. The region is on the precipice of changing over a century of Arab-Israeli conflict into a moderates versus extremists dispute, which pits Israel and the pragmatic Sunni nations against Iran and its murderous proxies.

With his past policy positions, Kahl appears to want to move the region backward and placate the ravenous Islamic Republic, while constantly slapping the face of allies such as Israel and the Gulf nations.

Four years of having Kahl in a decision-making position could finally end the nature of bipartisan support for Israel, allow for the Iranians to be closer to a nuclear bomb, and consign the Middle East to further blood-letting and needless wars.

This is more than just another appointment.

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes American interests and Western values in the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @MEForum.

Tags Colin Kahl Department of Defense Donald Trump Israel Jared Kushner Joe Biden John Bolton Middle East US-Iran relations

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