First, another apology for not posting more than once a week. It’s likely that this will be the pattern until I finish my book about the Israel lobby. It is not adaptable to other media, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping Angelina Jolie will play my wife Lisa in the movie. Anthony Hopkins would be perfect for Mort Klein. Any suggestions for Bibi Netanyahu? (Anyone remember the name of the guy who played Darth Vader?).
At any rate, what follows is another contribution from Tom Mitchell, a very brief summary/review of Aaron David Miller’s new book. The last few paragraphs pry open the can of worms that has been opened before on this blog: the fact that Clinton’s Middle East team had so many American Jews. The “money quote”:
“While I donâ€™t fault the participation, qualifications, or loyalty of any of the individuals in the team, I question the collective impact of having Middle East diplomacy dominated by one particular ethnic group, even if the individuals are executing the policy of the elected president. Imagine what American Jews and Israelis would think if the team was made up exclusively of Arab-Americans.”
When I first started hearing this complaint in the late ’90s, I had little patience for it. Now, piecing together what happened at Camp David and other critical junctures in the Clinton years, I reluctantly agree that it sent the wrong signal to the Arab world…
The Much Too Promised Land
By Aaron D. Miller
(NY: Bantam, 2008)
A review by Tom Mitchell
In 2003, Aaron Miller retired from the State Department after 20 years of service. He had played a major role in American Mideast policy during the administrations of George H Bush and Clinton administrations. The Much Too Promised Land covers the peace process from 1973 to 2003.
The first part of the book deals with American interests and goals in the region, as well as the domestic constraints on foreign policy. Miller deals with American Jewry and AIPAC at length and concludes that while AIPAC lobbying is a constraint, it is not an insurmountable obstacle and a determined administration can overcome it, as did Ford and Kissinger in 1975 and Bush and Baker in 1991. Much of what he writes about AIPAC is in conformity with what Dan Fleslher has written here and what Leonard Fein has written on his APN blog.
Next, Miller deals with American successes in Mideast diplomacy: the Kissinger shuttle diplomacy of the mid-1970s, Carterâ€™s involvement from 1977-79, and James Baker from 1989 to 1991. In each period he focuses on the key American actor and the motivations and methods that he employed. The material is clearly based on his careful reading of participantsâ€™ memoirs, his own experiences and extensive interviews with American, Israeli, and Palestinian decision makers. But those wishing to learn in-depth the issues and details of the 1970s diplomacy will be disappointed. They should turn to William Quandtâ€™s Peace Process for those details.
The next part is devoted to Clintonâ€™s two terms and diplomacy on the Palestinian and Syrian tracts. Unlike other American decision makers such as Ross, Madeleine Albright, and President Clinton and Israelis Shlomo Ben-Ami and Ehud Barak, Miller does not blame the failure of the Camp David II summit in July 2000 exclusively on Yasir Arafat. The book seems to be a synthesis of the conventional American-Israeli version of events and the conclusions of Clayton Swisher, whose The Truth About Camp David blamed poor American preparation and strategy as well as Israelâ€™s failure of nerve.
Miller blames everyone: the American team, Arafat and the Palestinians, Ehud Barak and even Syrian President Hafiz as-Assad. Assad is blamed for refusing to make the sort of political gestures that both Sadat and Arafat were willing to make in order to reassure the Israeli electorate and gain support for major territorial concessions. This resulted in Barak wasting much precious time on the Syrian track and not having enough time for the Palestinian track. Miller faults his own side for failing to make it clear to Assad that such gestures would be required and to the Israelis that a full withdrawal from the Golan would be necessary. And of course there was Arafat, who was pissed off with Barak for having given preference to the Syrians over him. Arafat chose to sulk during the summit.
Miller also reviews the diplomacy in the GW Bush Administration and asserts that Bushâ€™s â€œhands offâ€ approach wonâ€™t work in the Middle East. He concludes by arguing that successful Middle East diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible but not likely. This is because the easy lifting has already been done with Egypt and Jordan and conditions are not really ripe for a new breakthrough. Another advance would require major sacrifices by both sidesâ€”Israel in terms of territory, Syria in terms of gestures, and the Palestinians on the terms of settlement. He argues that to be successful. the U.S. would have to employ the deviousness of Kissinger, the missionary focus and attention to detail of Carter, and the ruthlessness of Baker.
Miller is clearly stating that successful diplomacy will not translate into domestic popularity. Each of the three successful figures he praises was anathema to large portions of the â€œorganized American Jewish community.â€ Israelis understood that they were not paying for Kissingerâ€™s salary, but many American Jews failed to understand that Kissingerâ€™s first loyalty should be to his employer
He also deals briefly with the fact that the Mideast offices of both Baker and Clinton were mostly Gentile-free zones. He mentions that the Palestinians referred to him, Ross and Dan Kurtzer, the American ambassador to Israel as â€œthe three rabbisâ€ and Israelis close to Shamir referred to them as â€œBakerâ€™s Jewboys.â€
I recently watched an episode from the sixth season of â€œThe West Wingâ€ in which the Bartlett administration successfully mediates a Mideast peace agreement without the participation of the secretary of state, the national security advisor, or the assistant secretary of state for Near East. Instead the issue is debated among the president, his chief of staff, and two Jewish domestic affairs advisors. I wonder what Arabs not fully versed on the realities of American television and Hollywood thought when they saw it. Even if the episode was not shown in the Middle East, imagine all of the Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Palestinian students who might have seen it. While I donâ€™t fault the participation, qualifications, or loyalty of any of the individuals in the team, I question the collective impact of having Middle East diplomacy dominated by one particular ethnic group, even if the individuals are executing the policy of the elected president. Imagine what American Jews and Israelis would think if the team was made up exclusively of Arab-Americans.
If I were teaching a course in regional conflict management I would have this book as a basic course text along with Jonathan Powellâ€™s Great Hatred, Little Room on Blairâ€™s Northern Ireland diplomacy.