Creating people's geographies
Update I: All this is interesting given that General Petraeus has been named as the 2010 recipient of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)’s Kristol Award — is this a neocon attempt to politically co-opt a key military figure involved in two wars, hoped by some to become “President Petraeus” (though he says he’s not interested)? The plot thickens. See also Spencer Ackerman’s Petraeus Reportedly Wanted To Put West Bank, Gaza Under Central Command (although publicly denied by General Petraeus, an assertion repeated in Vanity Fair by Mark Bowden) and Updates II, III and IV added below.
Mark Perry has elaborated on his recent FP piece at Paul Woodward’s War in Context. In ‘The Petraeus briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story‘, Perry describes an unprecedented bombshell briefing with Admiral Mullen in which the views of senior Arab leaders that the US administration is ineffectual and incapable of standing up to Israel are conveyed, as well as those of General Petraeus who sees the so-called ‘special relationship’ with Israel as putting American lives and interests at risk.
With a long-time Pentagon association, Perry notes that the only lobby in the US on a par with the Israel Lobby is the military, which makes this briefing even more significant:
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.”
Mark Perry additionally comments (excerpted here and worth reading in full):
My sense is that General Petraeus neither likes nor dislikes Israel: but he loves his country and he wants to protect our soldiers. The current crisis in American relations with Israel is not a litmus test of General Petraeus’s loyalty to Israel, but of his, and our, concern for those Americans in uniform in the Middle East.
It is, perhaps, a sign of the depth of “the Biden crisis” that every controversy of this type seems to get translated into whether or not America and its leaders are committed to Israel’s security. This isn’t about Israel’s security, it’s about our security.
This follows in the wake of Biden’s visit to Israel where, according to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Biden reportedly told Netanyahu privately: “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.”
General Petraeus’s Centcom Statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee – 16th March 2010 (56pp .pdf):
Insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace. The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [area of responsibility]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.
A credible U.S. effort on Arab-Israeli issues that provides regional governments and populations a way to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the disputes would undercut Iran’s policy of militant “resistance,” which the Iranian regime and insurgent groups have been free to exploit.
The Levant and Egypt sub-region is the traditional political, social, and intellectual heart of the Arab world and is vital to security and stability in the CENTCOM AOR. Because of its history as a primary battleground between rival ideologies, the dynamics of this sub-region, particularly with regard to Israel, influence the internal and external politics of states outside the region as well. In addition, U.S. policy and actions in the Levant affect the strength of our relationships with partners in the AOR. As such, progress toward resolving the political disputes in the Levant, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a major concern for CENTCOM.
In Paul Woodward’s take, he writes of Petraeus’s statements:
If such a statement was being made outside the American political arena, it could be regarded as a rather bland expression of what has long been utterly obvious. Yet from the lips of a celebrated general, regarded by many as a potential future president, these words come as a bombshell.
Neoconservatives and the Israel lobby have worked hard and long to obscure the deeply corrosive regional impact of a conflict that successive Israeli leaders have either been unwilling or seemingly incapable of resolving. Others, who earlier said what Petraeus now says, have either been dismissed as poorly informed or worse, branded as anti-Israeli or by insinuation, anti-Semitic.
No such charge will stick to Petraeus. Indeed, if the Israel lobby was so foolhardy as to try and go after an American general who sometimes gets treated like a latterday Eisenhower, the lobby will be at dire risk of being visited by its own greatest fear: being branded as anti-American.
In the Washington Post, the editorial finds itself in a similar position to AIPAC: having to oppose its own government to maintain its untenably uncritical line on Israel. As Joe Klein noted of AIPAC’s statement: “I can’t remember another ethnic or religious lobbying group publicly siding with a foreign country against the President of the United States…especially when the country in question is engaging in behavior that the international community believes is illegal.” Similarly, WaPo’s editorial entitled “The U.S. quarrel with Israel” says
It has been startling — and a little puzzling — to see Mr. Obama deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the Jewish state.
“With any luck, that brawl is just beginning”.
And the neocons mentioned at the start? As Jim Lobe wonders: “And now that the neo-conservatives, staunch supporters of Bibi Netanyahu, have built up Petraeus as the greatest U.S. military commander since World War II, and, thanks to Bill Kristol, a presidential candidate to die for, how will they react?”
See also John Mearsheimer, Scott Horton, Helena Cobban, Amjad Atallah, Pat Buchanan on Biden’s groveling, a round-up of the blogosphere from Ali Gharib and this funny post about Abe Foxman predictably going apoplectic.
The rightwing pundits are crowing because General Petraeus reportedly issued a denial about his comments to his israeli counterpart, but personally, I subscribe to the late Lebanese PM Hariri’s comments about truth and denial: never believe anything until it has been officially denied.
In addition to these two major wars, Petraeus is responsible for the politically delicate security-assistance efforts in Pakistan and Yemen. He is responsible for preparing military options in the event that a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions moves beyond threats and sanctions. He has brought an expansive vision to his new job, just as he has done in the past, pushing the Obama administration to rethink its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the broader context of the region. He relies on the cooperation of Arab nations, and so must cope with their unhappiness over America’s inability to make progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It is such a direct problem for Petraeus that he requested in January that the Palestinian territories be added to his command portfolio—they currently reside with EuCom (the European Command). The request was denied, but the general’s thinking has begun to influence the Obama administration’s approach to the issue. Petraeus’s overriding focus is on routing al-Qaeda. Far more intensely than commanders were able to in the past—recall those computer screens in his office—Petraeus oversees the ever expanding effort to target and kill Islamist extremists, using everything from pilotless drones to submarine-launched cruise missiles. He still tries to go to bed every night with fewer enemies than he woke up with.