Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Jimmy Carter to the Rescue

As President, he gave new meaning to the word "naïve." Now Jimmy Carter is outdoing himself wandering the Middle East to broker an end to decades of murderous hatred in the region.

Today Carter, an admirable man when he builds houses for the poor and helps refugees around the world, announces he has "no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel's right to live in peace."

"But," the New York Times reports, "some of Hamas's commitments to Carter, in talks he held with the Islamist group's top leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, were short on details and remarks by a Gaza-based Hamas official suggested the movement was not abandoning long-held positions."

This is vintage Carter, recalling a White House briefing in 1979 after he had negotiated a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons. As Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, reached agreement, Carter, according to Time Magazine, seemed "to have developed a protectiveness, almost a fondness, for the older man, especially after he saved Brezhnev from falling" and later "held Brezhnev's left hand all the way down the front walk" of the Soviet Embassy.

Carter's kindness was rewarded months later when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, destroying any chances for the treaty's ratification by the Senate.

At the White House briefing, Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security advisor, was lauding their "calm, consistent, predictable" foreign policy when I asked, "How does this explain the President's embrace of Brezhnev as 'a good friend' and, when the Soviets make a predictably aggressive move, overreacting and scaring our people by reviving registration for the draft?" There was no answer.

During his term in office, Carter was humiliated by American impotence throughout the Iranian hostage crisis and during the Mariel Boat Lift, when the US failed to screen out criminals and the mentally ill Castro sent us among the 125,000 legitimate political refugees.

He ended his term in office puzzled by a "national malaise" and asking Americans "to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel" to combat rising gasoline prices.

Now, as an octogenarian, Jimmy Carter is going to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lots of luck.


Larry Jones said...

Carter has had the temerity to criticize the government of Israel, so you dredge up 30-year-old evidence of his naivete to demonstrate how foolish and useless it is for him to be "wandering the Middle East" trying to accomplish something that our own government seems to have minimal interest in. The fact is, peace must be achieved in the region. If you think it will happen without talking to the parties, lots of luck to you.

Ben said...

Other views of Carter and the "malaise" speech.

* * *

Miller Center, U of Va.:
Carter gained a reputation for political ineptitude, even though his actual record in dealing with Congress belied that image. His success rate in getting presidential initiatives through Congress was much higher than that of his predecessors Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and successors Reagan and Bush. One might expect a president with a majority in Congress to do better than presidents facing the opposition party majorities. But Carter was also close to Johnson’s success rates, and higher than Kennedy’s record. Carter did not like to bargain and appeared arrogant and aloof, but at the end of the day, he usually wound up with much of what he sought from Congress. His major problem was that the perception of his leadership did not correspond with the reality of his performance.
- - Miller Center, U. of Va.

* * *

Dave Johnson at "Seeing The Forest":
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Today I was thinking about Carter's famous "Malaise Speech." (He actually never used the word "malaise," that was spin attached later.) [...]But there's another thing that, looking back now, it is much easier to see than it was at the time. Carter was being attacked in a new way, by the newly-formed web of right-wing organizations funded by a few extremely wealthy individuals, corporations and foundations, and employing many of the CIA's covert-government-destabilization experts that Carter had fired following the Church committee hearings that exposed so much CIA wrongdoing. On top of the turmoil of the previous years the country was being subjected for the first time to a well-funded campaign of well-crafted anti-government and extremely partisan anti-Carter messaging. This kind of mean-spirited, harsh, extreme, cruel, mocking, ridiculing partisan attack that we're so familiar with today was not something that the public had been exposed to on such a scale in the 1970's. Until this time the country held together and worked with their leadership - you can feel so much of that attitude in Carter's speech.

In the speech he says,
"As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions."
Later, smug commentators would call Carter "naive."

One of Carter's areas of major legislative accomplishments was his comprehensive energy policy, and getting the Crude Oil Windfall Profits Tax passed to finance it. This made him some serious and wealthy enemies.
- - Dave Johnson at "Seeing The Forest"

* * *

And how were Carter's wealthy (and stealthy) enemies rewarded, when Reagan took over the White House? Reagan's very first act as president was to remove the solar energy panels from the roof of the White House. Then the Administration went on to destroy Carter's (and Ford's) energy policies.

Ben said...

According to a recent article in "The Forward", Israelis in general don't predict much benefit from talking to Hamas, but they also don't see any harm in trying to talk to Hamas anyway.

* * *

Thu. Apr 17, 2008

In the United States, the uniform response to Jimmy Carter’s decision to meet with a Hamas leader in Syria suggested that this is not an issue up for debate. All the presidential candidates blasted Carter, as did pro-Israel advocates.

In Israel, though, the talk of Carter’s meeting with Khaled Meshal has fed into a long-running debate over the propriety of talking with Hamas — a debate that is significantly more nuanced than the quick American response to Carter.

The proponents of talking to Hamas in Israel come from all sides of the Israeli political spectrum: Security hawks, like former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy and ex-national security adviser Giora Eiland, see Hamas as a power to be reckoned with. Left-leaning politicians, such as ex-ministers Shlomo Ben-Ami and Yossi Beilin, believe that bringing in Hamas is the only way to bolster the current negotiations over a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

“The divisions among Israelis on the Hamas question do not reflect the usual differences between doves and hawks,” Beilin told the Forward. “There are those, like Halevy, who don’t believe that peace is possible and think that managing the conflict is a mutual interest of Israel and Hamas. People like Ben-Ami and myself believe that in order to have peace with the [Palestine Liberation Organization], one must have a cease-fire with Hamas.”

To be sure, Carter’s meeting with Hamas faced, on the public level, widespread criticism, and the former president was shunned by most Israeli officials during his stay in Israel prior to his Damascus trip. Within the Labor Party, Ephraim Sneh said that “there are very few Israeli politicians in favor of Hamas talks.”

“The only debate within Hamas is tactical; they agree on the strategic goal to get rid of Israel,” Sneh told the Forward. “This is what people don’t understand…. If you engage them, you pull the rug under moderates and you reward terror.”

But some important Labor figures disagree with Sneh. Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former foreign minister, said, “We need to do our utmost to save the Annapolis process, and this requires practical steps.”

“One needs to engage Hamas,” Ben-Ami added. “What Carter is doing is not a capital sin. This is another planet than America here, and we need to engage our enemies, be it Hamas, Syria or Iran. Asking them to recognize us from the outset has led nowhere.”

The debate among Israeli figures is reflected in public sentiment. According to a poll commissioned by the daily Ha’aretz in February, 64% of Israelis say the government should hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza about a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Trade and industry Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of the right-wing Shas party, publicly endorsed talking directly with Hamas on the sole issue of Shalit. The government has refused to hold such talks, relying on Egypt’s mediation to secure the release of Shalit, who was kidnapped in Gaza in the summer of 2006. The soldier’s release is one of the topics that Carter will be discussing during his visit to Syria this Friday.

There are indications that the same debate is quietly taking place within Israeli government, military and intelligence circles. The Israel Defense Forces has, for instance, conducted war games exercises about a Hamas engagement, while there have been in-depth discussions at the foreign ministry about the possibility of such an engagement, according to analysts who have been privy to Israel government discussions in recent months.

“All signs point to the fact that there is a very serious conversation taking place inside government about a cease-fire package,” said one of the analysts, who declined to be identified in order to be able to discuss such issues more freely.

Some observers detect similar, if less public, dissensions within Hamas between hardliners bent on a military confrontation and pragmatists who would prefer some form of accommodation with Israel.

“In the last couple of years, moderates and the leaders in Damascus share the wish to have an engagement with Israel, albeit not formal direct talks,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general now with the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv. Brom has been involved in unofficial discussions with Hamas officials.

There has been much talk in policy circles about a recent interview Meshal granted to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam, in which he indicated that Hamas could recognize the 1967 borders for a Palestinian state if such an arrangement includes Jerusalem and the refugees. While many Israelis reject such pronouncements as a tactical ruse, Halevy penned an opinion article in Yediot Aharonot claiming that the declaration was important and that Meshal’s insistence on not recognizing Israel before negotiations was not that different from the stance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The horse has already left the barn, and it is clear a sophisticated dialogue has been taking place for some time,” said Jeffrey Aronson, director of the dovish Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington.

- - "The Forward"