The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged biden
Biden's "unexpected powers of resistance" against the blob

David Bromwich, writing in the London Review of Books on Biden’s foreign policy nerve:

On the face of things, Biden has surrounded himself with the conventional advisers of the Clinton-Obama circle – Jake Sullivan, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Thomas Donilon, Ash Carter, Michèle Flournoy. It is hard to imagine any of them straying far from the Cold War groove of shepherding Nato against Russia and finding a field for occasional military exercise in a humanitarian war. Yet Biden in the past has shown unexpected powers of resistance: he sided with Douglas Lute and General Cartwright, against Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, in telling Obama in 2009 to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan immediately. Again, in the case of Libya, Biden made the right arguments (though again Obama declined to follow them) in opposing the overthrow of Gaddafi. It will take the same nerve, under greater pressure, to repel the temptation of using foreign adventures as a way of marking a contrast with the deal-making gestural nationalism of Trump. The US recently announced plans to deploy the Coast Guard in the South China Sea – a long way off to interpret as the West Coast of America. The next president will be advised to take many further steps on similar lines, and all the advice will be bad. Foreign policy has been a century-long distraction from America’s confrontation with itself.

AsidesThe Editorsbiden
“He has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Robin Wright, writing in The New Yorker on Biden’s foreign policy chops:

For all his experience, however, Biden has also backed controversial policies and made bad calls during his decades in foreign policy. As a senator, he opposed authorizing Operation Desert Storm, to oust Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from Kuwait, in 1991; it succeeded with lightning efficiency. He then supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; it was an epic failure that dragged on for years. In 2006, he co-authored a widely criticized Op-Ed in the Times that proposed the division of Iraq into autonomous Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish statelets—the kind of territorial split that isis achieved by carving out a Sunni caliphate between 2014 and 2019. Biden is “a man of integrity” who is “impossible not to like,” the former C.I.A. director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in his memoir, in 2014. Gates then said of Biden, “He has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

AsidesThe Editorsbiden
Biden on Mubarak

'Mubarak, he's no dictator' | LRB blog:

When asked by Jim Lehrer, the host of Newshour on PBS, if Hosni Mubarak was a dictator, the US vice president, Joseph Biden, said: ‘Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region, Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalising the relationship with Israel… I would not refer to him as a dictator.’

Here are some excerpts from the rest of Lehrer’s interview with Biden, containing more of the VP’s candid assessments.

On Darth Vader: Look, I know Darth fairly well, and Jim, I just want to mention that Darth has overcome asthma, some serious, serious asthma, and it’s just a really inspiring story, he’s written a children’s book about it, I gave a signed copy to my granddaughter for Christmas. Anyway our position is that before Darth blows up the planet Alderaan with his so-called Death Star, which is really just a large weather satellite with a few dual-use components, Darth should, you know, take some of that planet’s concerns into account

Read the whole thing — they go on with Biden on Cruella de Vil, Ozymandias, Colonel Kurtz and more. Typical response from Joe "I am a Zionist" Biden.

More links on Biden's Jerusalem trip
Here's a collection of material on Israel's settlement expansion and the recent Biden fiasco, in no particular order:
Instead of embracing Mr Biden, Israel showed him the finger, choosing the very day of his visit to announce the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. That counts as an in-your-face insult to a US administration that has demanded Israel freeze all settlement activity in the territories conquered in 1967, which include East Jerusalem. Little wonder that President Obama was said to be "incandescent with anger", spending 90 minutes on the phone to his deputy drafting a statement of condemnation rare for its ferocity.
The incident, which Mr Netanyahu brushed off as a problem of timing rather than substance, has caused something close to despair among Mr Obama's supporters. The impression that the US president can simply be pushed around both at home and abroad appears to be getting stronger by the week.
"That Israel would do this is almost mind-boggling given everything that has gone before," Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, told the Financial Times.
"While in reality, President Obama has scored quite a few points in foreign policy during his first year-plus in office, he has a problem with the growing perception that every time he shoots for the net, the ball bounces around the rim and doesn't go in."
"The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security, and she made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they committed to this relationship and to the peace process," Crowley said, later adding, "We accept what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. By the same token, he is the head of the Israeli government and ultimately is responsible for the actions of that government."
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman and Special Envoy George Mitchell have been working the phones hard, trying to save the initiative for "proximity talks." They spoke with President Abbas, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit of Egypt, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir al-Thani, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa.
In addition to the 1,600 units announced this week for ultra-Orthodox families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the Israeli government has plans for a total of 50,000 more housing units in east Jerusalem in the coming years, Haaretz reported this week.
"Beyond the embarrassment and the condemnation, which could fade with time, a problem has developed here in the relations between the countries, which were in any case shaky already," said one diplomatic observer, who is very familiar with what is happening in Washington. 
"Netanyahu's behavior only further diminishes [the Americans'] desire, motivation and trust with respect to holding a real discussion with him about Iran. They see him as unreliable, someone who is not serious - as 'tricky Bibi.' Even if they believe him when he says he didn't know [about the housing units in Gilo] and was surprised - this still doesn't get him out of trouble. Now they are certain no one is in charge here, there is no one to work with. And even if they do reach satisfactory agreements with Netanyahu, someone from the coalition, or some official or bureaucrat, always comes along to torpedo things and pour oil on the fire." 
The gall of some people:
The U.S. based Anti-Defamation League said late Friday that it was "stunned" by Clinton's "dressing down" of Israel. 
"We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States," said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a statement. 
The ADL called Clinton's remarks a "gross overreaction" to a "policy difference among friends." 
"One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table," Foxman said. 
And unbelievably Biden is apologetic about having been insulted:
“Now, some legitimately may have been surprised that such a strong supporter of Israel ... how I can speak out so strongly given the ties that I share, as well as my country shares, with Israel,” Biden continued. “But quite frankly, folks, sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.” 
A very important point:
The statement issued by Netanyahu's bureau said that in light of the ongoing dispute between Israel and the United States over construction in East Jerusalem, the plans for new housing in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood should not have been approved this particular week. It also said the premier had ordered Yishai to draft procedures that would prevent a recurrence. In other words, Yishai is welcome to submit more plans for Jewish construction in East Jerusalem next week, when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will no longer be here. 
Based on Biden's reaction, it seems that he (and, presumably, his boss) has decided that it is better to leave with a few sour grapes than to quarrel with the vineyard guard. In his speech at Tel Aviv University, he said he appreciated Netanyahu's pledge that there would be no recurrence. But what exactly does that mean? That next time he comes, the Planning and Building Committee will be asked to defer discussion of similar plans until the honored guest has left? 
With the media storm dying down, Netanyahu can breathe a sigh of relief. 
In a sense, the uproar actually helped him: To wipe the spit off his face, Biden had to say it was only rain. Therefore, he lauded Netanyahu's assertion that actual construction in Ramat Shlomo would begin only in another several years. 
Thus Israel essentially received an American green light for approving even more building plans in East Jerusalem
Gregg Carlstrom of The Majlis on Aaron David Miller's reaction to the Biden-settlements fiasco:
Suffice it to say that his argument -- Obama shouldn't pick a fight with Israel over East Jerusalem settlements, and instead should focus on restarting proximity talks -- is the triumph of process over peace. Miller literally encourages both sides to "continue the dance," to perpetuate the untenable status quo.
Looks to me that, as far as the US is concerned, the real problem is the inability to face the lobby at home or the willingness for the executive to take what steps it can (bypassing Congress) to actually punish Israel for its behavior. There has to be consequences. I'm not sure what's possible that wouldn't be blocked by Congress, but the White House and State Dept. do have a range of options at hand, such as delaying loans, putting red tape on other forms of funding, canceling Israel defense sub-contracting, opening investigations into the lobby and Israeli companies operating in the US. 
Meeting with Mitchell doesn't constitute much more than Middle Eastern hospitality; both sides are recipients of massive amounts of U.S. aid, and neither is likely to turn him down if he wants to pay a visit. But holding separate conversations with Mitchell is hardly a "peace process" - it may be little more than political theater.
Biden in Jerusalem

 Joe "I am a Zionist" Biden goes to Israel, gets himself and his country humiliated (again), and everybody gets excited that he uses the word "condemns" about illegal settlements that are part of an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign. 

Helena Cobban picks up on an anecdote from Pat Lang:

I'm assuming Biden decided on this course of action after consultation with Washington. (He took 90 minutes to decide what to do.) Do he and his boss the Prez have no idea how disgusted most of the people in the world are with the fact that, though from time to time Washington might say something critical of Israel-- meantime Washington never holds Israel to serious account, for anything, including "grave breaches of international humanitarian law" like implanting its settlers into occupied territories?
And the U.S. Congress continues to shovel money to Israel. U.S. diplomacy continues to get completely bent out of shape by defending Israel's actions in every international forum, at every turn, and by zealously pursuing Israel-driven agendas throughout the entire Middle East, including with regard to Iraq and Iran.
And these actions by the administration and Congress put the lives of U.S. service-members deployed around the world, often in pursuit of Israel-driven agendas, in significant additional risk.
Regarding Biden, Pat Lang has this intriguing little vignette in his latest post:
I was in Biden's senate office on one occasion when Biden's Zionism boiled over in a truly repulsive display of temper. I was there with my Arab employer to visit the senator... The Arab made some pro forma positive reference to the "peace process." Biden flew into a rage, grew red in the face and shouted that this was an insincere lie and that his guest knew that it was only Arab stubbornness that prevented "little Israel' from living in peace. His "guest" sat through this with what dignity he could manage. I would have walked out on him if I had been alone.
Assuming that the vignette's true-- and I tend to trust Lang on that-- it reveals quite a few disturbing things about Biden. Not just the guy's knee-jerk pro-Israelism, which is endemic just about everywhere in Congress, with a few notable exceptions. But also his evident lack of any diplomatic skills. I mean, why fly into a pro-Israeli rage like that if an Arab guest should happen to mention the "peace process"? What on earth good was he hoping to achieve by doing that? Nothing that I can think of-- except to vent his own feelings.
All this for "proximity talks" that set back the clock to 1992 if not 1949
Dump Israel. Stop financing its wars and expansionism. Block organizations from the Jewish Agency to countless smaller groups which resettle people in settlements, from operating in the West. Boycott, divest, sanction — no American should tolerate this behavior and American politicians' cowardice.
More links:

Fiasco in Jerusalem

Mideast talks hopes in tatters

Arab League chief says Mideast talks off 

Biden Israel Trip: Apology for Timing of Settlement News

Bibi's snub to Biden may backfire | Simon Tisdall | Comment is free |

Israel welcomes Joe Biden with 1600 slaps in the face

Biden Appeals to Restart Peace Talks -