[Guest post by DRJ]
The Instapundit speculates about what’s behind Obama’s recent treatment of Netanyahu:
“But it’s also possible — I’d say likely — that there’s something else going on. I think Obama expects Israel to strike Iran, and wants to put distance between the United States and Israel in advance of that happening. (Perhaps he even thinks that treating Israel rudely will provoke such a response, saving him the trouble of doing anything about Iran himself, and avoiding the risk that things might go wrong if he does). On the most optimistic level, maybe this whole thing is a sham, and the U.S. is really helping Israel strike Iran, with this as distraction. The question for readers is which of these — not necessarily mutually exclusive — explanations is most plausible.”
I think there is something more going on but I’m not sure it’s solely, or even mainly, about Iran. On March 13, Mark Perry writing at Foreign Policy made some surprising claims:
“On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. “Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,” a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. “America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.” But Petraeus wasn’t finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command — or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus’s reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.”
Perry later updated his post to say Petraeus communicated with Admiral Mullen, not the White House, and that Petraeus only asked for authority over Palestinian territories and not Israel. But his bottom line remained unchanged:
“There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers — and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military. While commentators and pundits might reflect that Joe Biden’s trip to Israel has forever shifted America’s relationship with its erstwhile ally in the region, the real break came in January, when David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers. Maybe Israel gets the message now.”
Yesterday, ABC News reported Petraeus’ response:
“Army General David Petraeus, the commander of Central Command, says comments attributed to him on the Foreign Policy blog on March 13th—that “Israeli intransigence…was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region”—were simply inaccurate.
As for the accuracy of the statements attributed to Petraeus or the alleged CENTCOM briefing? They’re “flat wrong,” Petraeus says. Responding to a question from the American Spectator while speaking at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, the General said there was never any “mention of [America] lives” in any of his statements. So what did he say? Petraeus explained that he had submitted a document in which he described the “various factors that influence the strategic context in which” American troops operate in CENTCOM.
And the Middle East peace process, he said, is one such factor that influences the environment—but is one of many, also including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations” as well as “a country that has a nuclear program”—meaning Iran. “We have all the factors in there,” he said, and the Middle East peace process “is just one.”
Petraeus further stated that he never asked for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be transferred from EUCOM to CENTCOM—and he certainly didn’t make any direct request of the White House.”
So what is the real story? I don’t know, but I hope the Obama Administration’s policy decisions aren’t as muddled as this story suggests.