Ambassador Kurtzer: A Jewish View of Israel and Obama We Never Hear in the U.S.

Last week, Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2001-2005, came out in support of Sen. Obama. In light of the Republican propaganda about how Obama would be 'anti-Israel' or some other hooey, it's worth noting why Kurtzer supports Obama (italics mine):

We have one candidate who is prepared to do diplomacy. Only one candidate.

We have two candidates who have told us all the countries they don't want to talk to. They don't want to talk to Iran because Iran has a really awful government. And Iran does have a really awful government. And Iran is pursuing policies that are not on inimical to our interests but they are dangerous to the world - the pursuit of nuclear weapons, the support for terrorism, the idea of Holocaust denial and a president who openly says he wants to see the destruction of the state of Israel, another member state of the United Nations.

So in an effort to talk to Iran, there is no excusing or negotiating away any of our fundamental interests with regard to these issues. But if you don't talk to your enemies, who else can you talk to?

When I studied Diplomacy 101, you look at the range of issues available to the United States in what's called the diplomat's toolbox, the most important in some respects is what is articulated by a President as his or her national security policy. That's the rhetoric of diplomacy. And we're pretty good at it. We issue threats every day. We tell people exactly what we don't like about them every day. That's OK, that's part of diplomacy.

There's a second aspect, which is sanctions, a proactive measure against countries with which we have differences of view. And we do a pretty good job on sanctions, also. We sanctioned Iraq for many years; we are sanctioning Iran right now.

And they tell you the end of the diplomatic process is the resort to arms. It is the use of American military power to achieve our national objectives.

Well, as you know, I left out a large middle ground of this continuum and it's called diplomacy. It's called engaging with people you don't like in order to try to find out whether you can narrow differences. And you may not. But you can try.

It's called talking to your adversaries. At a minimum you learn something about them by talking to them and at a maximum you find out that there is some common ground even if you can't reach agreement. Maybe it's a question of buying some time, or building alliances or finding support elsewhere that you would not have found without talking to your adversaries.

There is a large range of tools that constitute what we call diplomacy. We have had eight years of no diplomacy, and you have two candidates out there who tell us they don't want to talk to our enemies.

Well, I, for one, don't want to live through another four or eight years of moving from rhetoric to sanctions to war. I want to be able to have a President to come to me, the American people and you, and say, "If we have to go to war, I have exhausted all means at our disposal and I have used all the assets of out national power, including the power of words through our diplomats, through my own diplomatic efforts, and I now feel that we need to go to war." If the President tells me that, I will get behind that President and I will support that decision. But without that, I am concerned that we will continue to jump from rhetoric to war with the same reckless and careless manner that we have until now.

There is one candidate who believes in diplomacy and his name is Barack Obama.

I've never understood the harm in simply talking to someone. The worse case scenario is that the violence gets dialed down for a short period, and then you can get back right back to killing each other. If nothing else, the lives saved in the interim do matter. This is very different from appeasement (Also here).

Kurtzer also makes this interesting observation about the cost of Iraq to Israeli security:

I was in Israel when this was being contemplated and when it started. And, as part of my job as American ambassador, I pulled together, on numerous occasions, Israeli officials and academic experts on Iraq and on the Middle East, to try to understand what we all knew was intended. There was no secret about his administration's desire to go to war with Iraq, so I wasn't giving away a secret by asking the question of our Israeli friends.

Now, you've heard the nonsense which is out there which suggests that Israel or the Jewish community or the Israel lobby pushed this war on the administration. And I can tell you it is nonsense, because there was not one Israeli official and not one Israeli academic who suggested that this war was going to end well. They all warned against exactly the problems we have experienced since this war started, because Israel experienced many of those same problems.

The unknowns of occupation, the likelihood that occupation is going to yield resistance, you can call it insurgency, you can call it civil war - whatever the euphemism is - it is resistance to occupation, which takes on its own dynamic and becomes a self-justifying and self-perpetuating reason for being there in the first place.

And so Israel understood far better than the wise neocons who brought us this war, that this was going to be dangerous not only for the United States but also for Israeli security. And if you doubt those words, look at the nearly one million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and take a measure of Jordanian stability. Jordan, which is a bedrock of Israel's security on its eastern frontier.

This mostly jibes with my experience. Other than the Israeli far-right (and the neocons are essentially the right wing of the Likud on the Potomac), most Israelis, regardless of where they fell on the political spectrum, used the Lebanon War as the frame of reference for the Iraq War (at the time, there was only the> one Lebanon war). That is, Iraq would be a quagmire and the U.S. would be out of its depth in terms of the local politics. Sadly, they were right.


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Kudos to Mr. Kurtzer. And Zarquon help us when diplomacy is considered appeasement. By that logic, we should ignore school bullying until after handguns are fired in the classroom.

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 18 May 2008 #permalink

Completely irrelevant to the topic, but would you mind closing the open italics tag at the end of your post? Thanks.