U.S. intelligence warned Obama of Egypt instability at end of 2010

U.S. intelligence officials warned President Barack Obama’s administration of instability in Egypt at the end of 2010 but did not foresee what would trigger the unrest at that time, a top U.S. CIA official said on Thursday.

Stephanie O’Sullivan, nominated to be the principal deputy director of national intelligence, asked at her Senate confirmation hearing when the U.S. intelligence community warned Obama and policymakers that protesters might threaten Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s grip on power.

“We have warned of instability,” she said. “We didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened at the end of the last year.”

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Faith-based foreign policy faces perils ahead

Ideology is fine for campaigners, bloggers and talk show hosts, but it often wreaks havoc in the real world, where effective policy requires flexibility, not rules dreamed up in think tanks and advocacy groups.

That lesson has defined Israeli policy for decades, but it is being eroded by Jerusalem’s acquiescence to a U.S. administration that has implemented a foreign policy based more on faith than pragmatism.

A stubbornly ideological administration has put the United States in a deep hole in the international arena — and a vulnerable Israel could pay a big price for playing along with the true believers in Washington.

While Israel has always taken a hard line on terrorists and front-line adversaries, it has traditionally remained open to peace feelers, however tenuous.

It wasn’t just U.S. pressure that caused the hard-line Yitzhak Shamir government to start talking to a blood-drenched PLO or to engage in the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s. Yitzhak Rabin, a celebrated general who could hardly be called a peacenik, signed the Oslo agreement and shook Yasser Arafat’s hand in 1993, not because he believed the old terrorist leader had suddenly developed a love of Zion but because of a conviction that Israel’s future was dependent on finding some way to talk to its enemies.

Syria has long been a fomenter and supporter of terrorism and a source of regional instability. But the Jewish state has never shrunk from talking to Damascus whenever its leaders believed there was even a glimmer of hope to advance negotiations and avoid war.

Israel has even maintained backchannel contacts with Iran, despite the fanaticism of its leaders, in the belief that such contacts could someday pay important dividends.

Israeli governments representing both the left and the right understood that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends, and that in the Middle East, every chance for peace is a long shot. That has been the U.S. view of the region as well — until now.

An administration driven by rigid ideology expects Israel to play by the same rules. Current U.S. doctrine says you never talk to terrorists or terror-sponsoring countries; therefore Israel must do the same, regardless of its very different circumstances.

When Syrian president Bashar Assad sent out tentative peace feelers last year, the Bush administration laid down the law to Israel: don’t respond, even though some analysts in the Israeli government believed there might be slight shifts in the Syrian position that were worth exploring.

Last week, those instructions became even more explicit; according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her recent Mideast visit, demanded that Israel avoid even exploratory contacts with the Assad regime.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not particularly inclined to start new talks with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but there, too, the Bush administration has made its demands clear: don’t give Hamas or anybody connected to it the time of day.

Israel is in a straitjacket of American design, barred from employing its traditional hard-headed pragmatism, prevented from exploring possible new routes to peace. It is treated as a client state, not an ally; its politically weak leaders, afraid of angering a senior partner in Washington that believes talking to enemies is tantamount to endorsing them, meekly complies with U.S demands.

Jerusalem should look more closely at what these policies have done to U.S. interests and influence around the world.

President Bush’s black-and-white, good-versus-evil view of a complex world and his refusal to negotiate with those he deems unworthy have left the United States with almost no allies and little credibility.

That isolation has undercut U.S. efforts to deal with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of extremists and increased, not decreased, the armies of terrorists eager to lash out against enemies real and imagined.

The Iraq war he started on the basis of ideology, not intelligence, has spread instability across the Middle East and strengthened Iran, according to U.S. intelligence estimates.

Washington’s refusal to talk to Iran hasn’t slowed its quest for nuclear weapons, and may have rallied a restive populace behind an increasingly unpopular leadership. It’s refusal to talk to Syria hasn’t changed Syrian behavior for the better, and may have pushed Damascus deeper into the Iranian orbit.

So shouldn’t Israel’s leaders be alarmed that on key matters involving their nation’s security they are being dictated to by a government in Washington whose ideology-driven foreign policy has undercut vital shared priorities and added to the dangers Israel faces in a seething Middle East?

Faith-based foreign policy hasn’t worked for Washington, and now it threatens to compound the problems facing a Jewish state that once based its foreign policy on tough pragmatism, not theories and beliefs. Israel can’t afford to thumb its nose at its only real ally — but there could be a big cost to continuing to follow the dictates of an administration that remains pure in its beliefs but increasingly alone in its policies.

Analysis: Jewish silence on Iraq continues

Congressional Democrats and President Bush are on a collision course over plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in the conflict, an issue that will dominate the 110th Congress and the early days of the 2008 presidential race.

But don’t look for much of a response from the organized Jewish community.

The reasons normally talkative Jewish groups have been struck dumb are varied. But one potential consequence is becoming clearer by the day: Israel, smack in the middle of a destabilized Middle East, could pay a big price for U.S. failures in the war — and for the failure of Jewish leaders here to speak out against those policies.

There’s never been doubt about where the Jewish grass-roots has stood on the war. Even before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, polls showed majority opposition to military action in Iraq, and that opposition has only grown since Saddam Hussein was toppled and Iraq began its sickening descent into civil war and sectarian mayhem.

But no major Jewish group spoke out against Bush administration policy until November 2005, when the Union for Reform Judaism passed a cautiously worded resolution calling for troop pullouts to begin a month later and for a clear exit strategy by an administration that didn’t seem to think it needed one.

Even in the Reform movement, though, activism lagged, reflecting the nation as a whole; despite widespread doubts about administration policy, the antiwar movement failed to gain traction in Middle America.

In part, that was a function of the inability of war opponents to offer plausible policy alternatives. And the antiwar movement seemed dominated by radical forces with other agendas, including the neo-Stalinist, anti-Israel International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
Among Jewish leaders, there was also uncertainty about where Israel’s leaders stood on the war.

In 2003, some Israeli officials privately expressed qualms that a U.S. invasion could create new fault lines in the region. But others insisted the removal of Saddam would only help Israel, and last November Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Washington and said that U.S. policy is bringing “stability” to the region — despite U.S. intelligence estimates saying just the opposite.

The administration boxed Jewish leaders in by repeatedly saying the war was being fought, in part, to protect Israel. Jewish leaders here never bought that argument — but it made it harder for them to publicly challenge the policies of an administration that said it wanted to help Israel.

Some Jewish leaders also feared that criticizing an embattled Bush could cool his pro-Israel ardor and lead to retaliation against the Jewish state.

For all those reasons and more, Jewish groups, with the exception of the Reform movement, have remained mute. But with the debate over the war moving into a new phase as the new Democratic Congress looks for ways to force a change in administration Iraq policy, that silence has created problems on two levels.

At home, it has strained relations between Jewish groups and their traditional liberal coalition partners, which see Iraq as the seminal issue of our era.

The fact that a large majority of Jews opposes the war but their communal representatives refuse to speak out may accelerate the estrangement of so many from organized Jewish life, especially among younger Jews.

And that reticence can only reinforce the false charge that Israel and the Jewish community actively lobbied for the war, a conspiratorial perspective that is gaining traction in the political mainstream as the Iraq death toll mounts.

The refusal of even liberal groups to speak out may also be setting the Jewish community up for a worse backlash if President Bush decides to pursue military action against Iran.

On the broader world stage, the eerie silence, viewed by some as a way to protect Israel, may actually have the opposite effect by encouraging policies that threaten the Jewish state.

As last year’s National Intelligence Estimate revealed, U.S. policy in the war is increasing Mideast stability, breeding new terrorism and strengthening Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.

“We’ve already gravely damaged Israel’s security; the war has done that,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest House opponents of administration policy and a leading pro-Israel voice in Congress. “We took away the balance of power in the region, liberated Iran to be an even greater menace.”

Privately, some top Jewish leaders concede that even if going to war with Iraq was a good idea, the way it has been conducted has resulted in a more dangerous Middle East. But these leaders refuse to speak out, even though their silence is, in effect, a de facto endorsement of administration policies that may be hurting the Jewish state.

That silence may also be read by a besieged administration as support for U.S. military action against Iran — action that could be even more damaging to Israel if it turns out as badly as the war in Iraq.