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Leading From Behind: Lessons from Gaza

First, this posting is about American policy, not an apology or condemnation of Israel. For the optimists among us, the best path would seem to be the deal nearly brokered between Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, and Ehud Barack in late 2000 -  Gaza and most of the West Bank to the Palestinians, a divided Jerusalem, and a greatly reduced “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. That was a time when the United States was the unquestioned world leader and a strong supporter of Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and the United States had a president who cared and knew how to negotiate.

Bill Clinton had carrots and sticks as well as words. Not so today. After six years of withdrawal from world leadership – in Iraq; in Afghanistan; in Syria; in the Arab Spring; in the South China Sea; in the Ukraine; with reduced military budgets; with the disgracing of the intelligence community – poor John Kerry cannot pull a rabbit out of the hat with words. What he could do – if he understood it and President Obama (and Valerie Jarrett) would allow it - is organize a set of allies who share our objectives, have skin in the game, and have been cultivated to take a leadership role.  Unfortunately, that thought process seems to be missing from Team Obama.

Let’s digress for a moment to the business principle of Succession Planning. Any accomplished Board of Directors understands that one of their primary obligations is to ensure that one or more potential replacements is being groomed for the Chief Executive Officer position. Some CEOs view this as a threat; competition within the organization is sometimes unhealthy. Nevertheless, long term company prosperity requires that there not be a vacuum created when the CEO leaves office, and that the successor has been given the development opportunities to be fully qualified and the Board Room exposure to confirm alignment of goals and values.

If the United States is to play a lesser role in world affairs – either because a President Obama is offended by American imperialism, or because a large swath of the population wants to focus on problems at home – it is essential that we think about succession planning, probably on a regional basis. Who is strong enough, has enough at stake, and is closely enough aligned with our interests to be developed and supported as a regional leader? Perhaps Japan in East Asia; perhaps Mexico in our hemisphere; perhaps Germany and Britain; perhaps Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Each is subject to debate, but the point is that we need to understand natural regional relationships and develop those who are our natural allies – particularly if we are going to do less.

Let’s see what the Obama administration has done in Gaza.

Aside from condemning Israel’s attacks on civilian shelters in Gaza and calling for cease fires, the real work was in John Kerry’s effort to convene a July 25 Paris conference to work out a settlement – and scuttle a nascent Egyptian initiative.  The participants: France; German; Britain; Italy; the US; Turkey; and Qatar (where the political arm of Hamas is based.) Not represented: Israel; Egypt; Saudi Arabia; and the Gulf States – all historic American allies – and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which governs the major portion of Palestine, has long engaged in talks seeking a peaceful solution, and is a bitter rival of Hamas which governs Gaza and is committed to the destruction of Israel.)

Not only has the United States withdrawn from leadership in the Middle East, but we have decided not to have our long-time allies and friends of Israel fill the void. Egypt has long been the major Arab interlocutor for Israel, but has fallen out of favor with the Obama regime since the military overthrew their Muslim Brotherhood government. Out with the old; in with the new. Hope and Change.  The decision to deal with Hamas, exclude the PLO, and minimize the role of Egypt reflects a total lack of thought about who shares our values and objectives, and who can be developed to fill the vacuum we are leaving behind.

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This week’s bonus video: An April spat between Diane Feinstein and CIA Director John Brennan about whether the Agency had hacked her Senate Committee computer system. This week’s lightly-reporter update – well, yes, actually they did. More grist for the Rand Paulistas.

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