An inability to argue means a tendency to smear, 1

The Dish has a post today, “WaPo Neocon Watch,” that doesn’t say very much except that this Jackson Diehl fellow is an opinion writer whose views are “neocon,” and you should therefore see them as dangerous and wish his voice has less influence in the future.

Without praising the work or opinions of Jackson Diehl, the columns that Andrew cites seem to include elements of foreign policy realism and the requirements of not-shooting-yourself-in-the-foot statecraft. Coincidentally, I guess, they present a set of cogent arguments against positions Andrew Sullivan has taken. Thus, the substance of these columns would provide great material for Andrew to show his counterarguments. Instead, Andrew writes:

Check out his columns here. One of his recent beauts: a diatribe against the “unlovable” Iranian Greens.

The headline says “unlovable,” But Diehl writes to make a distinction between one powerful Green figure, who has political experience in the regime, from the mass of Green supporters. Furthermore, Diehl asks all the right questions that any sane person with American interests at heart would ask (ex. James Baker) , questions about what a change toward this kind of self-labelled “Green” official might mean.

They’re the same questions Obama has been responsibly, and at times publicly, asking. They are the same questions foreign policy realists have been asking. And for these questions, Diehl is to be brushed off as a neocon? Yes, merely for not repressing, or suppressing, questions in the interest of the Dish’s idea-oriented enthusiasm (which, ironically, is the stereotypical neocon problem). Here’s Diehl:

Mohajerani, who served as culture minister in the liberal Iranian government of Mohammed Khatemi in the 1990s, distanced himself from the current president’s denial of the Holocaust and remarked at one point that Iran “should not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians.”But he went on to assert, as per the current regime, that the countries seeking to freeze Iran’s nuclear program themselves possess nuclear weapons, as does Israel; that Israel had contracted to supply nuclear weapons to Iran’s former shah; and that Ahmadinejad’s threats to destroy Israel were no different than what Hillary Clinton had said about Iran during her presidential campaign. Asked whether Israel had a right to exist, he refused to respond.

As for Western support for Iranian democracy and human rights, “the green movement has no expectations whatsoever,” Mohajerani declared with a sarcastic smile. “When we say we have no expectations, then our expectations will be met.” On the contrary, he warned against “taking advantage” of Ahmadinejad’s weak regime to strike a deal “that would not be in Iran’s interest.” The suggestion was that the opposition would consider any concessions to the West by Ahmadinejad illegitimate — a position that was borne out by statements last week by green-movement leaders attacking the uranium swap plan.

Mohajerani’s speech infuriated not just the Americans but also liberal Iranians in his audience; one of them, scholar Mehdi Khalaji, later pointed out that while Mohajerani might speak for Karroubi, he did not represent the vast numbers of younger Iranians who had joined the street protests. “The true leaders of this movement,” he argues, “are students, women and human rights activists, and political activists who have no desire to work in a theocratic regime or in a government within the framework of the existing constitution.”

That’s probably true. But the fact remains that, were Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi somehow to supplant Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the main changes in Iranian policy might be of style. “We don’t disagree with whatever Ahmadinejad says,” Mohajerani told me in an interview after his speech. “The point of disagreement is mainly the election,” in which there was blatant government-sponsored fraud.

Mohajerani is a sophisticated man; he studded his speech with references to Faulkner, Whitman, Dostoyevsky and Kafka. He concedes readily enough that Iran’s opposition is a coalition of many disparate elements, some of which are considerably more liberal than he is. Maybe that’s the reason for his other discouraging message — that the green revolution should not be expected to succeed anytime soon.

“The green movement is not a 100-yard race to determine the leader after a few seconds. It is a long marathon,” he said. “We need generations to take part in this race. One generation takes the liberty gained by the previous generation and keeps running.” I later asked him how people in the West should think about the disparity between the decade or more he said real change in Iran would require and the one to three years that may separate the current regime from a nuclear weapon. “This is a real problem,” he replied. “I have no prescription for this crisis.”

I’ve provided the above emphasis for points that The Dish would not like to hear, and possibly would not like to give its readers pause. I’m not even sure that Andrew actually read this column he’s smearing.

Andrew again on more of Diehl’s neocon-false consciousness:

Another [Diehl column]: a dissent on any notion that the US should seek a moratorium on all new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There’s a fair bit of overlap between this anti-freeze column by Diehl and what a pro-freeze realist would have written criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of the issue.

This criticism is something that the Dish has never done, except to say that he “misjudged the intransigence of Netanyahu and the power of his support on Capitol Hill” — as if how we (Americans, Andrew) conduct our diplomacy and statecraft doesn’t matter at all as long as overall we’re better than mediocre … BTW, Andrew assured us then that that Obama “will keep persisting in trying to rescue the Jewish state from the perils of its own hubris and paranoia” — which is great, because I love it when my President keeps persisting almost as much as when he/she perseveres with being tenacious.

I’m still very pro-Obama, and I think in general his diplomacy and statesmanship have been excellent. But I’m continually amazed that putting aside the “unprecendented” gaffe Andrew thinks Hillary owns alone, the Dish doesn’t seem to think the Obama administration can do anything wrong in these areas. Any word to the contrary is neoconesque perfidy. Here’s Diehl, and again I’ll highlight the points of argument that, based on The Dish’s silence since June, Andrew has been scared to address:

But, starting with a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in May, the administration made the mistake of insisting that an Israeli settlement “freeze” — a term the past three administrations agreed to define loosely — must mean a total stop to all construction in the West Bank and even [what was in ’47 called] East Jerusalem.

Andrew doesn’t like to note that Obama himself was probably even against this act by his Secretary of State. He has not once reflected on the report, to which he linked, that Obama was upset at Hillary for obstreperously showing the administration’s intent regarding settlement policy. (“Unprecendented” may have been her failed attempt to re-adjust after her earlier mistake.)

Obama probably wanted to start pressure for a moratorium and see how the Palestinians and Arab nations responded. He would then have been able to crank up the public pressure on Israel for a total, absolute freeze by getting reciprocations toward that end from the Arabs and Palestinian. Reciprocal measures would have made the Israelis more comfortable in not allowing natural growth in those culturally integral areas (Jewish cities and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem) along the Green Line to which they feel Palestinian maximalists are trying to undermine their claims.

A two-stage approach, where the second stage came after reciprocations, would have represented excellent diplomacy by the Obama administration. Despite the fact that this approach might have been Barack Obama’s own position, after the whole debacle transpired, Andrew files the position in his category of “neocon intransigence.” Back to Diehl:

This absolutist position is a loser for three reasons. First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for; they claim to be waiting for the settlement “freeze” even as they quietly savor a rare public battle between Israel and the United States. Second, the administration’s objective — whatever its merits — is unobtainable. No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze, and no coalition could be assembled from the current parliament to impose one.

Finally, the extraction of a freeze from Netanyahu is, as a practical matter, unnecessary. While further settlement expansion needs to be curbed, both the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have gone along with previous U.S.-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel — since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement. Before the 2007 Annapolis peace conference organized by the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia and other Arab participants agreed to what one former senior official called “the Google Earth test”; if the settlements did not visibly expand, that was good enough.


Curiously, though, the administration — led by the State Department — keeps raising the stakes. Clinton went out of her way on June 17 to disavow any agreements between the second Bush administration and Israel over “natural growth” in some settlements.

Hillary could have been a bit less strident, I thought. It kind of shook the Israelis’ trust in the administration’s word, at a time when the U.S. (particularly through Hillary) was trying to convince Israelis to count on American’s nuclear shield.

In a press briefing last Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly responded to a question by saying the administration opposed new construction in all areas “across the [green] line” in Jerusalem — a definition that would prohibit Israeli building in such areas as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

I can’t remember one time when Andrew made a suggestion for the peace process, as a measure to not encourage Palestinian maximalism. This shows a minimal understanding of the time-tested art of statecraft.

The result of such posturing is that the administration now faces a choice between a protracted confrontation with Israel — an odd adventure given the pressing challenges from Iran and in Iraq, not to mention the disarray of the Palestinian camp — or a compromise, which might make Obama look weak and provide Arab states further cause to refuse cooperation. The White House, I’m told, still hopes Netanyahu will accept a construction moratorium, with a time limit and perhaps a waiver for some buildings under construction.

The Daily Dish doesn’t want to address any of Jackson Diehl’s points, whether there made by Jackson Diehl, or someone closer to Andrew’s opinion about Israel. It’s better to say that Jackson Diehl is on the wrong side of opinion, i.e., the non-Dish side, and the readership should feel free to apply various negative epithets to whatever Mr. Diehl writes.

I’ll give Andrew a bit of a hint though to formulate a response to Mr. Diehl’s freeze arguments. It’s the same approach I wondered how Andrew could not see before: argue for the U.S. to demand a total settlement freeze while demanding an absolute, total end to publically-funded incitement. Make sure the Palestinians know that the long-term strategies of their own unconscionable maximalist elements are in the world’s eye. It’s the humanist position, Andrew. Feel free to call it the Catholic position if you like.

And Andrew, please pay more attention to the principle of responsible, non-counterproductive diplomacy. (One would think you could manage more attention to the principle than Danny Ayalon, at least.) Feel free to call it the moral, Catholic position on diplomacy if you can understand it better that way.

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