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    Obama Foreign Policy Tag

    Ahead of Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the White House is considering new efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
    The internal discussions are aimed at offering a blueprint for future Israeli-Palestinian talks in a bid to advance a critical foreign-policy initiative that has made little progress during Mr. Obama's two terms in the White House, the officials said. The strongest element on the list of options under consideration would be U.S. support for a Security Council resolution calling on both sides to compromise on key issues, something Israel had opposed and Washington has repeatedly vetoed in the past. Other initiatives could include a presidential speech and a joint statement from the Middle East Quartet, an international group comprising the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
    According to the Journal, the President Barack Obama hasn't made up his mind but "is considering a range of options." In any case no decision is expected until later this year.

    If you receive Morning Insurrection, you would have seen Prof. Miriam Elman's recommendation to read Jonah Goldberg's piece on the importance of foreign policy in the upcoming election. (If you don't currently read Morning Insurrection see the signup box in the upper right-hand corner of Legal Insurrection.) Goldberg wrote:
    We can debate how much blame Obama deserves for Syria’s civil war, but almost no one outside his paid staff disputes that he’s only made things worse. The conflict there has set off the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since the end of World War II — that’s John Kerry’s own assessment — which may yet tear the European Union asunder. The instability closer to the fighting is even more dangerous. Russia and Turkey may soon go to war with one another, as Russia mercilessly and indiscriminately massacres anyone standing in the way of its pet, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The Jordanian monarchy may crumble, in part for a lack of assistance from the United States.

    With each passing day, it gets more and more difficult to ignore the monumental disaster that Obama’s foreign policy actually is. Nowhere is its utter failure more glaringly evident than in the Syrian Civil War. But first, let us not underestimate the pathologies of the Middle East that have led to the present disaster in Syria, but Obama administration’s policies have created perils that we would be dealing with, in decades to come. The geopolitical vacuum created by President Obama’s push to shrink America’s footprint in the Middle East has quickly been filled by Comrade Putin’s soviet-style jackboots. And President Obama-backed Nuclear Deal has single-handedly contributed billions of dollars to Islamic Republic of Iran’s war chest geared at funding global terrorism and regional adventures.

    We hear from critics of Israel that Israel needs a two-state solution to be  legitimate. Without a Palestinian state, the argument goes, Israel will rule over millions of resentful Palestinians to whom it will have to deny their basic rights in order to maintain its Jewish nature. Or if Israel enfranchises the Palestinians, they could overwhelm the Jews with their votes and then Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. So the reasoning goes, without a separate Palestinian state, Israel will either cease being Jewish or democratic. But there was already a separation achieved in 1993, with the signing of the Oslo Accords. By the end of 1995 Israel had withdrawn from the major population areas in the West Bank, leaving over 90% of Palestinians under the political control of the Palestinian Authority. In 2005, Israel "disengaged" from Gaza ending the occupation of that territory.

    There has been quite a bit of BDS-related legislative activity in the several weeks, with two anti-BDS measures moving through Congress, and activity in several state legislatures.  While the legislatures universally oppose BDS, President Obama has weighed in in opposition to Congress's pro-Israel legislation.

    Federal Anti-BDS Legislation

    First, Wednesday afternoon Senators Mark Kirk (R. - IL) and Joe Manchin (D. - WV) and Representatives Bob Dold (R. - IL) and Juan Vargas (D. - CA) filed a bill to help states divest from BDS-supporting companies.  According to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon:
    The new bill, which was filed Wednesday afternoon, marks an aggressive push by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to combat the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, otherwise known as BDS, which advocates in favor of economic war against the Jewish state. The bill would provide legal shelter to states seeking to divest taxpayer funds from any company that has backed the BDS movement. It also would set a legal precedent granting safe harbor for private investment companies to do the same.

    While President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have assured us that the nuclear deal with Iran has delayed war, Tony Badran in a devastating critique of the administration's foreign policy last week wrote, "Middle Easterners are not so lucky: They get to fight their wars with Iran right now." Back in 2014, Badran noted, President Obama said of the turmoil in the Middle East, "A lot of it has to do with changes that are taking place in the Middle East in which an old order that had been in place for 50 years, 60 years, 100 years was unsustainable, and was going to break up at some point. And now, what we are seeing is the old order not working, but the new order not being born yet -- and it is a rocky road through that process, and a dangerous time through that process." But a few months earlier, Obama, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, made very clear that his intent was to make Iran an agent of changing the orders. When Goldberg asked him why the Sunni states seem to fear him so much Obama answered, "I think that there are shifts that are taking place in the region that have caught a lot of them off guard. I think change is always scary. I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran, even if most of that was rhetorical and didn't actually translate into stopping the nuclear program. But the rhetoric was good. What I've been saying to our partners in the region is, 'We've got to respond and adapt to change.'"

    The U.S. move to boost NATO forces in Eastern Europe is another black mark on President Obama and Hillary Clinton's foreign policy.  The decision to strengthen NATO's bulwark against further Russian adventurism is sound in itself, but it further exposes the 2009 Russia Reset as a naive, amateurish blunder.  The cost for the mistake - a mistake many recognized and warned against at the time - is still being reckoned on battlefields in Eastern Ukraine. President Obama entered office determined to distance himself from U.S. foreign policy that made no sense to his ideological view.  Among the anachronisms he identified was the tense U.S.-Russia relationship.  Relations with Russia degraded through President Bush's second term, and than cratered when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and President Bush responded by deploying U.S. warships to the Black Sea and airlifting Georgian troops home from Afghanistan. Two months after taking office, Obama dispatched his newly-appointed Secretary of State - Hillary Clinton - to reset relations with Russia.  In March, 2009, Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, and gave him a big, red, plastic button with the Russian word "peregruzka" on it.  Clinton thought it meant "reset;" it actually meant "overcharge."

    The Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") added five more Russians to the Specially Designated Nationals List pursuant to the Magnitsky Act on February 1. In a press statement, a senior State Department official noted that one of the officials had nothing to do with the murder of the eponymous Sergei Magnitsky, but rather was involved in Russia's brutal war in Chechnya.

    Sergei Magnitsky and the Magnitsky Act

    The Magnitsky Act is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney arrested on trumped-up charges arising in retaliation for his exposing official Russian corruption in the course of representing of American investor Bill Browder.  Magnitsky died after being beaten by Russian police while in police custody and denied medical treatment despite his injuries and preexisting illness.

    The disastrous JCPOA and President Obama's political compulsion to hide Iranian wrong-doing have infected the entire Democratic Party.  Instead of responding to Iran's support for terrorism and violations of its international commitments by imposing penalties, President Obama - and now his Democratic allies in Congress - are running cover. David Gerstmen wrote last month that "Obama’s Passivity in Face of Aggression Puts Iran in Driver’s Seat" and
    in October, Iran tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that was later determined by the United Nations to have been in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929.  The administration, in response to Congressional pressure, was set to impose new sanctions on Iran at the end of 2015, but retreated when threatened by Iran.
    Rather than leave Obama exposed to more embarrassment if he has to veto or block an Iran sanctions bill, Senate Democrats are trying to do the work for him.  According to The Hill:

    Three weeks ago, ten American sailors on two naval boats were seized by Iran. One of the first readouts of what happened came from the State Department with this tidbit:
    Now, the Secretary then got on the phone with Foreign Minister Zarif for the first time – I think the first of at least five phone calls they had during the course of that afternoon and evening – at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. The main message that he – there were a few messages he wanted to convey to the foreign minister. One, to provide him with some information about our understanding of what had happened, which was not perfect but was sort of developing in real time. And we had gathered some information including that the sailors were in transit at the time of the incident, that they were in transit between Kuwait and Bahrain, that they may have had some sort of mechanical problem – although at that point we weren’t sure – that we had lost communications with them, and that we had indications that they were now located on Farsi Island in the Gulf. The Secretary made clear that our most important priority – and that this was critical – was that they be released, obviously, safely and unharmed and as quickly as possible, and that if we were able to do this – and this is something that he said to Zarif on a few occasions – if we are able to do this in the right way, we can make this into what will be a good story for both of us.
    Think about that last line, "a good story for both of us."

    As negotiations to negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war plod along, the UN has admitted, internally, that it is powerless to enforce any Syria peace deal. According to Foreign Policy, the UN knows it cannot enforce or even monitor any peace deal it brokers:
    In a confidential strategy paper exclusively obtained by Foreign Policy, the office of the United Nations’ top envoy to Syria warns that the U.N. would be unable to monitor or enforce any peace deal that might emerge from landmark political talks underway in Geneva. The paper raised concerns the world might harbor unrealistic expectations about the U.N.’s ability to oversee and verify a cease-fire in a civil war beset by a dizzying array of armed factions and terrorist groups. “The current international and national political context and the current operational environment strongly suggest that a U.N. peacekeeping response relying on international troops or military observers would be an unsuitable modality for ceasefire monitoring,” according to the “Draft Ceasefire Modalities Concept Paper” by U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura’s team. In plain English, that means Syria will be far too dangerous for some time for traditional U.N. peacekeepers to handle.

    With the news that Iran has seized two American boats and detained 10 American sailors in the Persian Gulf just ahead of the State of the Union earlier this week, I'd like to go back to something that President Barack Obama said a little more than a year ago. Even though the sailors have been released, albeit under humiliating circumstances, the real story here, which the media is generally ignoring, is that they were taken prisoner in the first place. At the end of 2014, Obama gave an interview to Steve Inskeep of NPR. When explaining his rationale for the nuclear deal this is what Obama said:
    So, when I came into office, the world was divided and Iran was in the driver's seat. Now the world's united because of the actions we've taken, and Iran's the one that's isolated.

    Every confrontation with Iran has a phase which is much more important to the Iranians than the physical outcome. It's the humiliation phase, in which the Iranians get to exploit photos and video showing their opponents as weak and the Iranians as strong. We saw it throughout the U.S. Embassy hostage drama in 1979-1980, in which the hostages were paraded in front of the cameras and crowds. Iran Hostage Crisis The 10 U.S. sailors were released earlier today after Iran seized two small U.S. Navy boats yesterday. Iran demanded an apology and is claiming it got one, though the U.S. denies that. There is no doubt, however, that the pathetic and delusional John Kerry openly thanked the Iranians:
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday thanked Iran for its cooperation in the release of 10 sailors who had mistakenly entered Iran's territorial waters, an incident that stoked international tension.

    Two ongoing news stories that broke this past week show the Obama administration's contrasting styles towards America's top Middle East ally and a rogue nation that continues to flout international law. Obama and his top officials have no problem playing hardball with Israel, but become like Rex the dinosaur in Toy Story, who doesn't like confrontations, when dealing with  Iran. First, last Tuesday The Wall Street Journal (Google link) reported that the administration excluded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the list of foreign leaders it would not spy on after Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA regularly spied on friendly heads of state. Quoting current and former U.S. officials the spying on Netanyahu was deemed by Obama to be a “compelling national security purpose.” Of course the reason for this was Netanyahu's objections to the Iran nuclear deal. The fear was that Netanyahu would leak sensitive information he had been told by the United States in order to torpedo the deal. (Israel insisted that the secret details that it learned came from spying on Iran.)

    Russia's Navy is growing and playing a greater role is Russia's aggressive foreign policy posture for the first time in two generations, and the US seems - still - unprepared and unwilling to push back. Russia's military capacity has been severely limited since the end of the Cold War.  It's most noteworthy events were two Chechen Wars in the 1990s and early 2000s that went poorly, and the 2000 disaster that sank and killed all 118 sailors aboard the nuclear submarine Kursk. Even Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008 was poorly executed against a nominal military power. Since Georgia, Russia has done better.  The invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2009 was more or less flawless.  The Russian involvement in Ukraine today is less so, but is also hampered by having to maintain the pretense of non-involvement.

    Russia's policy of bloody deterrence and intimidation is reaping battlefield victories, and exposing US fecklessness in Syria.  President Obama has decided the risk of alienating the Syrian population and providing propaganda fodder for ISIS and other anti-Western organizations outweighs the benefits of a substantive military intervention, but Russian President Vladimir Putin's s opposite strategy moots the theory.  Syrians afflicted by foreign military intervention and Islamists capitalizing on it are unlikely to parse their anger according to which foreign power actually caused their losses. Particularly since ISIS bombed a MetroJet airliner on October 31, 2015, killing 224 people, including 219 Russians, the Russian and American campaigns in Syria could not be more different.  Russia now operates four forward operating bases in Syria and claims to have flown more than 4,000 sorties and hit 8,000 targets since September 30, 2015 and to have conducted fifty-nine sorties on December 15 alone, hitting 212 targets, killing 321 ISIS fighters and destroying 100 oil facilities. After the MetroJet bombing, Russia also deployed ground forces to Syria for the first time.  According to Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.):
    Comparable to our own elite fighters of Delta Force, Russian special forces have an operational edge ours do not. While battlefield actions by U.S. forces will, appropriately, always be defined by the laws of land warfare, Russian special forces historically have tossed their moral compass aside. By doing so, they convey a clear message—in blood—to adversaries.
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