As I have become accustomed to nearly every type of outrage here in the land of the BushObamas, it takes quite a bit to either surprise or shock me. But last week was a twofer and I'll start with the shock. On Thursday morning I was reading my way through a rather silly piece "Rand Paul rebuked by fellow Republicans on foreign aid" by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who clearly does not understand the meaning of "isolationism." Then I hit the last few paragraphs. The article provided background and spin on the defeat of the recent Paul motion to cut aid to Egypt and included "[Senator Lindsey] Graham read aloud a letter from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) opposing Paul's amendment" [Senator John] McCain needled Paul. 'The question here is whether the senator from Kentucky knows what's better for Israel, or Israel.'"
Paul was clearly caught flat footed but, to his credit, called the AIPAC letter a "canard," and, according to Milbank, "challenged the 'so-called leadership' of AIPAC." Milbank described the GOP senators who lined up against Paul as engaging in an "emotional onslaught from his party's most respected voices on foreign policy." The article mentions Jim Inhofe, Bob Corker and Marco Rubio as having joined McCain and Graham in railing against Paul.
I will leave it to the judgment of the reader whether or not that group constitutes "respected voices," but the truly shocking aspect of the incident was the open reading of and referral to the letter from AIPAC by both Graham and McCain. AIPAC traditionally likes to work in the shadows and behind closed doors but it is now apparent that even senior senators can openly nod to the organization as the ultimate authority on what U.S. policy in the Middle East should be. McCain even confirmed that AIPAC represents Israel as far as he is concerned. As is all too often the case, for the "respected voices" the discussion is all about Israel, not about the United States, though it is nevertheless astonishing to hear that viewpoint expressed so openly in the Senate.
Rand Paul has three times attempted to restrict aid to Egypt and once tried to also do the same for Pakistan and Libya. All three attempts failed by large margins in the Senate. As I have noted a number of times, I find Paul's campaign against foreign aid laudable but ultimately hypocritical because he carefully exempts Israel from any such sanction in spite of the fact that Tel Aviv is by far the largest single recipient of assistance and is in violation of both international law and US policy with its continued occupation of the West Bank.
Plus Paul is fond of throwing out slogans rather than engaging in any serious discussion, asserting repeatedly that we should deny aid to those who are "burning our flag" or shouting "death to America," sending a clear message that the problem is those uppity Muslims, not the apparently peace-loving Israelis. But if he thought a bit more deeply about what is going on in the Middle East he would realize that Washington's Israel policy drives the fractious relationship with the Muslim world in general and generates global terrorism as a byproduct. Paul consequently favors doing nothing against a nation that does actual damage to US interests while taking cheap shots against a gaggle of Islamic states that have minimal ability to harm the United States.
My surprise last week was over the appointment of Martin Indyk as special US envoy in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Secretary of State John Kerry has already lowered expectations by announcing that he has a nine-month plan for some kind of agreement, meaning that nothing has to actually happen, but the appearance of Indyk was nevertheless an unpleasant reminder that even if everything changes in Washington nothing changes when it comes to the Middle East. Prior to the announcement, it had occurred to me that Kerry might actually try to fool the American people into thinking that he had a serious plan by appointing a respectable and respected US intermediary but he instead chose to play it safe by naming someone favored by Israel.
Indyk's appointment was greeted with nary a ripple of concern by the mainstream media and hardly anyone noted that serious talks would be unimaginable with an interlocutor who has spent his entire life working on behalf of Israel. He was universally and fawningly described by the press as a "seasoned" or "experienced" diplomat but the important parts of his biography were carefully left out.
Martin Indyk was born in Britain to Jewish parents before emigrating to Australia, where he was naturalized and educated at the University of Sydney and at the Australian National University. He was studying at the Hebrew University in Israel when he became a civilian volunteer at a kibbutz during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That may have been when he decided that helping Israel would best be done from inside the United States. As Max Blumenthal describes it, "I remembered stumbling into a huge auditorium [in 2009] to hear Indyk describe how he made 'aliyah to Washington' during the 1980's to ensure that US policy remained slanted in Israel's favor, and go on to blame Yasser Arafat for the failure of Camp David."
In 1981, Indyk did indeed move to the United States after being offered a position as an analyst with AIPAC. Three years later he went on to co-found with Dennis Ross the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an AIPAC spin-off, serving as that organization's Executive Director until 1993.
Advocacy for Israel and being a non-U.S. citizen were apparently not impediments to stepping over from the Israel Lobby directly into the federal government's policy making positions relating to the Middle East. Indyk ran into a little problem in that he was still Australian but the Clinton White House quickly introduced into the House of Representatives a bill to naturalize him by act of congress and he was soon on his way. Beginning in 1993, he served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton and then as senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. While at the NSC, he was principal adviser to the President and the National Security Advisor on Arab -- Israeli issues, Iraq and Iran.
Indyk had come to the attention of the Clintons, possibly for his masterful explication of what Washington should do for Israel, but also because he had some serious money behind him. Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, who had given $3.5 million to the Clinton presidential campaign, asked that Indyk be named American Ambassador to Israel. Bill Clinton agreed, making Indyk the first Jew to serve in that position. He was in Israel for two years from 1995 until 1997, returned to Washington as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Policy, and was then reappointed ambassador by Clinton in 1999 serving until 2001.
Indyk was undeniably extremely popular in Israel, possibly because he had difficulty in separating US interests from those of his host country. He got into trouble when it was determined that he had been careless in his handling of classified intelligence information. His security clearance was suspended, the only time that has ever occurred with a United States Ambassador, but it was later conveniently restored by Madeleine Albright who intervened in the process and overruled her own security people.
Indyk, like his close friend Dennis Ross, is one of a cluster of Israel firsters who have dominated US policy making in the Middle East since the time of Ronald Reagan. The key players tend to move around a lot, alternating between government posts and think tanks or universities, with brief forays into the private sector where they make money exploiting the relationships that they developed while in office.
After he stepped down as Ambassador Indyk wound up as Vice President of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institute, which is heavily funded by his patron Haim Saban. He has morphed into a J Street type supporter of Israel, which means he favors peace with the Arabs but on Israel's terms, because he apparently honestly believes that it is in Tel Aviv's long-term interest to permit a rump Palestinian state. There is nothing about the US interest, except as it coincides with that of Israel in his world view and now he is back making policy for the White House. I sometimes wonder what hold the Obamas and Bushes of this world have over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to compel him to show up to endure the humiliation of sham peace talks, particularly when the US government makes no attempt to be even marginally fair in its dealings with the two sides. Poor Abbas, fated to look across the table at a grinning Martin Indyk.
Martin Indyk is a symptom of the cancer that rots the political system and makes many Americans despair of our ever emerging from the darkness of the past 12 years. Indyk is a passionate Zionist who is completely Israel focused. His willingness to do what is right for the United States and its people has to be considered questionable yet he has been given great power to do still more damage in a part of the world where the US has legitimate strategic concerns. Surely there were better choices for the position but Kerry and Obama clearly considered it necessary to send a signal to Israel that Washington will not deviate in its support for the Netanyahu government, which, incidentally, has frequently expressed its unwillingness to permit a Palestinian state with any of the actual attributes of statehood.
So the game goes on, with no one winning but the thuglike and expansionistic Israeli settlers. And if you wonder why Washington persists in engaging in self-destructive behavior, just go ask Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They will wave a paper in your face and on it will be the latest directives from AIPAC.