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Last week, Vice President Joe Biden was publicly slapped in the face by the Netanyahu government during his trip to Jerusalem. The Israeli government used the occasion to announce the settlement of 1,600 Israelis in Arab East Jerusalem, in defiance of America’s calls for a freeze on settlements. According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Biden responded: “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
Now in a fascinating briefing note at Foreign Policy, Mark Perry gives us a clearer sense of what Biden was thinking:
On Jan. 16… 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 goes on to say that the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell.” There’s no doubt that this is what inspired Biden’s comments. Indeed, this was plain from the Yedioth Ahronoth report, which went on, after quoting Biden, to state: “The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.”
The Netanyahu government and its supporters in the United States want the controversies relating to Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip to be dealt with alone, detached from any impact they could have on the broader region and the interests the United States is pursuing there with its troop placement in two different theaters. That in fact reflects the way most American media report on these developments. But this approach is foolish, for reasons that the Petraeus briefing makes clear. Perry sees this as a struggle between two “lobbies,” namely the Israel lobby and the U.S. military. The Israel lobby is very powerful, he says, but how can it compete with the U.S. military asserting the imperative interest in the security of U.S. troops? The Netanyahu government’s recent dealings reflect contempt for the Obama Administration and indifference at best for its position in the Middle East. These steps seem perfectly coordinated with neoconservatives in the United States, as shown in the “apology” offered on their behalf by Washington Post editorial writer Jackson Diehl (“Biden flunked,” he concludes, applying typically obtuse reasoning). The question is whether a close ally can throw juvenile tantrums and abuse its protector indefinitely without consequences. So far the answer appears to be: yes it can.
Perry’s column is an essential read. I’m halfway through his new book, Talking with Terrorists, and expect to have a discussion of the book in the form of an interview with Perry up before the end of the month.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”