Sunday, September 08, 2013

Syria, AIPAC, and J Street

Things might change later this week, but I couldn't help but notice the delicious irony that has confronted the two opposing US pro-Israel advocacy groups as they come to terms with President Barack Obama's bumbling approach to a proposed military operation against Bashar "Breaking Bad" al-Assad.

Ever since J Street emerged in the 2008 election cycle, I've had a theory that always seemed to be re-verified: the true purpose of the fake movement J Street was to provide progressive pro-Obama American Jews a sense of belonging. In my theory, J Street could care less about the two state solution, or the plight of the Palestinians, or the corrosive moral rot of the occupation - all that was blather, a smokescreen to hide its true purpose. In my theory, the real reason for the existence of J Street was to galvanize progressive American Jews who "cared" about the future of Israel into a political force that would support the Obama administration's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, whatever it was, and keep those Jews in line. J Street was an ethnic brick in the Obama coalition.

So now, 5 years later, comes the moment of truth: Obama wants to bomb al-Assad, but in a surprising turn, wants to have the American political system back him before he strikes. And as the dust settles on that stunning development, American Jewish policy organizations have one after another been forced to take a stand. The much larger and more successful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has decided to go "all-in" on behalf of a president it oftentimes disdains & distrusts. Published reports tell of a decision within AIPAC to send a flood of advocates to Congress this coming week on behalf of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

But so far, J Street is like a deer caught in the headlights. As late as September 6, Buzzfeed reported that J Street is in the midst of intense internal discussions of just how to proceed.

One can expect that the currently "undecided" J Street operators are agonizing with the throes of a classic conundrum. Their champion is advocating military action which most American Jews support, and which Israelis of all stripes overwhelmingly want. I suspect that many of J Street's supporters are at best conflicted, and quite possibly opposed to military action in Syria, because progressives in American politics are opposed to further American intervention in the Middle East. The fact that more than a week has gone by since Obama's "road to Damascus" conversion and J Street hasn't been able to muster anything more than a toothless UN-style condemnation of the use of chemical weapons speaks volumes as to the organizations ultimate irrelevancy.

Eventually the poor deers of J Street will have to chime in one way or the other. If they ultimately come out in favor of the President, it will be a half-hearted leap. If they choose to oppose their beloved commander-in-chief and his wannabe predecessor John Kerry, it will be equally meek. For someone who has always doubted J Street's sincerity and commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace, I feel nothing but schadenfreude for the hapless souls of this progressively pointless organization.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Operation Chemical Shmemical

Who knows how it will all turn out? It's quite possible that after a dignified and serious congressional debate and vote, the United States will act accordingly, whatever "accordingly" might be. Maybe some Tea Party wing-nut will attach a rider to the Authorization for Use of United States Forces affirming the sanctity of life of the unborn. Maybe the Authorization will stall over the debate to raise the debt ceiling. Maybe Rand Paul will become our next President. Anything can happen.

For a President who had garnered the sobriquet "No Drama Obama," Saturday's 30-minute delayed proclamation that he, the President, had concluded that military action is required...BUT that congressional approval should be sought, has got to be one of the most spectacular developments in the history of American foreign policy. In a Friday evening saunter on the White House grounds, the conflicted Commander-in-Chief came to a realization. He decided to turn to Congress, "a step that none of the four congressional leaders had asked for and none of his national security advisers had recommended" (Bloomberg News).

I understand the dilemma. There are no good options when it comes to Syria. The Onion said it best in an op-ed piece published this week in the name of Bashar al-Assad entitled "So, What's It Going to Be?":

Well, here we are. It’s been two years of fighting, over 100,000 people are dead, there are no signs of this war ending, and a week ago I used chemical weapons on my own people. If you don’t do anything about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. If you do something about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. Morally speaking, you’re on the hook for those deaths no matter how you look at it.
So, it’s your move, America. What’s it going to be?
I’ve looked at your options, and I’m going to be honest here, I feel for you. Not exactly an embarrassment of riches you’ve got to choose from, strategy-wise. I mean, my God, there are just so many variables to consider, so many possible paths to choose, each fraught with incredible peril, and each leading back to the very real, very likely possibility that no matter what you do it’s going to backfire in a big, big way. It’s a good old-fashioned mess, is what this is! And now, you have to make some sort of decision that you can live with...
So, all in all, quite the pickle you’re in, isn’t it? I have to say, I do not envy you here. Really curious to see where you go with this one.

But then we must confront the strange twists and turns of the week after the chemical attack in Ghouta. Destroyers rush to the eastern Mediterranean. David Cameron gets flummoxed by Ed Miliband, even as The Economist screamed "Hit Him Hard." It all ends with Obama turning to 535 preening assholes, 535 armchair Secretaries of State and Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs. Let the Sunday morning talk shows begin!

Obama, forever the ponderous academic and junior Senator from Illinois, has decided that Syria is a teachable moment. It's the kind of decision a bad college president would make.

Oh sure, the opponents of American military action, and advocates of a less imperial presidency, are altogether elated with this road to Damascus conversion of St. Barack. In one fell swoop, he has reversed a trajectory that began in the Gulf of Tonkin and has led to one misadventure after another. I can understand the tempting, seemingly smart prospect of getting an unwilling Congress and American public opinion to have it all aired out.

Advocates of a military response to the horrific carnage of Syria are now themselves horrified. They claim that Obama has weakened America's reputation throughout the world.

I don't care what jihadis will think. I don't care what Bashar al-Assad will conclude. I don't care if Bibi Netanyahu is now beside himself with anxiety. But think for a moment about what Vladimir Putin and Li Keqiang might conclude about their global counterpart. It can't be anything good.

Now we have President Spock, a man so taken by his own native intelligence and sophistication that he imagines himself the President who will bring a warring Congress and a distracted nation along his Vulcan path of kolinahr.