Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

November 22, 2009

Obama: Don’t take Hoagland’s disastrous advice!

Filed under: Discourse in America,US-Israeli relations,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 5:09 pm

Jim Hoagland is one of the most influential of the US commentators who actively agitated to push Washington into the disastrous decision to invade Iraq.  He hasn’t apologized to anyone for that yet.  But now, he is still hard at work, in his regular, handsomely compensated column in the Washington Post, making the equally disastrous argument that there is nothing Washington can or should do to help end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and that “only an Israeli decision” can bring about the two-state outcome that Pres. Obama says he’s committed to.

Hoagland reaches this bizarre—one might even say, defeatist—conclusion by characterizing the US government, from the get-go in the column the WaPo is running today, as an “outsider” in the Israel-Palestine dispute.

Would that the US were indeed such an outsider!  How much easier matters would be if Washington had not, for several decades now, been an actively partisan, staunchly pro-Israel participant in the dispute.

How much easier, if the US had not been pumping vast amounts of aid dollars into Israel over the decades—aid that has continued, for the past 17 years now, quite unlinked to demanding any actual Israeli compliance with the requirements of international law or the US’s own peace diplomacy, including its commitments under the 2002 Road Map.

How much easier, if the US had not regularly been wielding its influence in international bodies—including the frequent use of a US veto at the Security Council—in order to shield Israel from the requirements of international law.

How much easier, if the US had not been regularly shipping large amounts of cutting-edge US weaponry to Israel, so it could pursue its various ugly wars of choice– in Lebanon and Gaza—without having to bear the costs itself.

You get my drift.  When he characterizes the US as an “outsider” in the Israel-Palestine dispute, as he does in the first two paragraphs of today’s column, Hoagland is already setting himself up to make a deeply dishonest argument.

Along the way, he also takes a quite gratuitous, and equally dishonest, jab at Justice Richard Goldstone, the distinguished (and, as it happens, personally very pro-Israel) international jurist who lead-authored the report of the UN Human Rights Council’s recent fact-finding mission into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity during last winter’s Israeli assault on Gaza.

Hoagland characterizes Goldstone, like Pres. Obama, as “a well-intentioned outsider” regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute.  He then quite bizarrely describes the report as containing “deliberate demonization of Israel’s motives and milquetoast exculpations of Hamas’s actions”.

And where is the chapter and verse in the report that Hoagland uses to support this accusation?  Nowhere!  Like most of Goldstone’s highly partisan detractors, he provides no evidence whatsoever to support the accusations he makes against the report.  Indeed he provides no evidence whatsoever that he has even read the report.  If he had, he would have found no “demonization” of Israel’s motives, and no “exculpations”—milquetoast or otherwise—of Hamas’s actions.

Indeed, in the report, Goldstone and his co-authors noted that there is considerable evidence that Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and called on them to investigate those allegations and if necessary try and punish wrongdoers, just as it called on the government of Israel to do the same.

Hoagland gives equally little evidence that he has any understanding of the regional dynamics in the Arab-Israeli region.  The only actual regional figure he gives any evidence of having talked to is an un-named “Arab official”, whom he quotes as saying that PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas feels “let down by everybody, especially Egypt.”

Well, we didn’t see Abbas when we were in Ramallah recently.  But we did see PA prime minister Salam Fayyad and Abbas confidant Ziad Abu Amr, both of whom were quite explicit that it is Obama’s Washington that Abbas feels particularly let down by.

Hoagland also, equally bizarrely, says that Egypt “has tilted toward cooperating with Hamas at the expense of Abbas’s Fatah movement in recent months”.  Again—he provides no evidence, because there is no evidence for that claim.  Ditto with his claim that “The Egyptian turn… has also antagonized Saudi Arabia.”

It’s like he doesn’t even read the easily available news reports from the region! (For example, this one about the Saudis, Egyptians, and others working together on a response to the current impasse in the peace diplomacy; or this one, about the deep disappointment that leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both long-time US allies, are now expressing toward Pres. Obama’s policies.)

So why does the WaPo continue publishing these screeds on Middle East matters that are written by someone who (a) got it so badly wrong regarding the invasion of Iraq, and (b) demonstrates his ignorance so plainly nowadays on matters relating to the Israel-Palestine dispute?

Beats me!

Americans desperately need to understand the contours of this conflict much more clearly.

What happens in Israel/Palestine—and most particularly, what happens in the deeply contested holy city of Jerusalem—is closely watched by 1.3 billion Muslims around the world.  Some hundreds of million of those Muslims live in countries that are vital to the wellbeing and even survival of the American men and women who are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  (That includes both the national populations of those two majority-Muslim countries, and the populations of other majority-Muslim countries that sit astride the overly lengthy and very vulnerable supply lines on which those those troops rely.)

And our country is far from being an “outsider” in the Israel-Palestine dispute.  Washington is, and is nearly everywhere seen as, a very deeply involved and partisan insider to it.

That situation will continue until the administration takes some concrete actions to demonstrate that it stands aside from—and will hold Israel fully accountable for—Israel’s continuing violations of its commitments under international law and the requirements of US diplomacy.

On the three trips I made to the Middle East earlier this year, I saw that the levels of hostility expressed towards America by leaders and citizens in the Arab countries had plummeted noticeably, in response to the election of President Obama and to those of his early actions in office that seemed to demonstrate a welcome commitment to fairness and effectiveness in Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

But over the past few weeks—in response to a series of administration actions including its opposition to the Goldstone report, its failure to stand firm on the demand for an Israeli settlement freeze, and its apparent waving aside of other concerns expressed by leaders of Arab and Muslim countries—the hostility to America is on the rise again.

If Obama and his team take Hoagland’s advice, and continue to act like “outsiders” to the conflict who are content to allow Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu dictate the pace and direction of any diplomacy, then the US may well be headed for a tragedy in the Muslim world that could dwarf the debacle it suffered in Iraq.



  1. I think that those of us who, like me, supported Obama are now looking back to realize that we simply read our own interests onto the blank slate that is Obama. Every day he shows himself more and more to be a politician with no convictions and no center. It is time for a serious challenge to Obama from the left. Anyone got any candidates that could be seriously considered? Unfortunately, my personal choices of Bernie Saunders and Dennis Kucinich are not taken seriously and do not qualify.

    Comment by Jack — November 22, 2009 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t think that anyone is likely to take Hoagland’s advice.
    I think he would be shocked by the idea that anyone would: he is simply churning out propaganda to beguile the idiotic (those unaware of the centrality of the US to the Palestine conflicts) and pit a smile on the faces of the guys who write the pay cheques.
    It is hard to blame him for anything other than the amoral greed that is said to fuel the capitalist system: it is not, after all and as you make quite clear, as if he does not begin his argument by discrediting it. And disqualifying himself from the consideration of serious readers aged ten years or over.

    Comment by bevin — November 23, 2009 @ 3:17 am | Reply

  3. Obama’s inability to even figure out what the hell he wants to do in Afghanistan speaks volumes
    about whether he has any prayer of advancing the Palestinian issue. Nothing Obama can do will unite
    Hamas and Fatah, so right there the conflict is intractable to any single actor.

    We elected Obama to pull out of Iraq, fix health care, and a few other priorities that do not involve hearding cats or Arabs, and even those he cannot do. Nough said. All Obama did is a beer summit when he rushed to judgement on black professor Gates, and called for not rushing to judgement when Major Hasan did his terrorist attack in Texas. 0 for 2 for Obama.

    Comment by Sal — November 24, 2009 @ 12:50 am | Reply

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