I’m whacked by a party hack

Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has taken a whack at my recent op-ed on Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Affairs essay. In that piece, I examined Hillary’s text, I decoded its message on Israel and the Palestinians, and I suggested that it deviated from pronouncements she’s made elsewhere. Forman calls my exegesis a “tawdry political stunt… filled with shaky logic and intellectual dishonesty.” But he doesn’t attempt to refute my exegesis of her essay, which seems to echo the pressure-Israel-and-push-for-Palestine preferences of the foreign policy establishment.

Instead, he does two things. First, he hails Hillary as “a great supporter of Israel throughout her career.” He cites her “impeccable voting record” in the Senate, her advocacy for Red Cross recognition of Magen David Adom, her accolades in the Orthodox newspaper The Jewish Press, and so on. But all this begs the question that I asked: Why does the Foreign Affairs piece send an equivocal message about Israel? Why is it inconsistent with other statements she’s made? “Who is the real Hillary, behind the triangulation?” I asked. “Who knows?” Perhaps Forman knows which of her statements express the real Hillary, and which ones to discard. But what are the rest of us supposed to do, those who aren’t Democratic party insiders like him? Take his word for it and ignore the contradictions?

Second, Forman accuses me of double standards. I’m critical of Hillary, he claims, for proposing the very same diplomatic agenda now being pursued by the Bush Administration at Annapolis. Forman:

If this passage [of Hillary’s essay] were truly objectionable, surely Kramer would say the same about the Bush Administration’s efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian agreements at Annapolis. And what, Mr. Kramer, are we to think of Condoleezza Rice’s assertion that “We appear to be on course to prepare seriously for continuous ongoing negotiations,” and that “I can really say without fear of contradiction that everybody’s goal is the creation” of a Palestinian state?

Perhaps the biggest discernable difference in Kramer’s eyes is that Clinton’s comments were made by a Democrat–and political foe–while Rice’s were made by a Republican political ally. Mr. Kramer is a member of Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy team.

Well, Mr. Forman, you obviously haven’t been a big reader of mine, or you’d know that I haven’t hesitated to criticize the Bush Administration when I’ve deemed it to be wrong-headed. Four years ago, I dissented from Bush’s first big democracy speech, and compared him to Jimmy Carter. I did it again after Hamas won Palestinian elections in January of last year. Last June, I appeared at a conference in Prague hours before the President did, and challenged him on the same issue. In a profile over the summer, I was quoted (accurately) as saying: “I saw myself in a debate mode with President Bush” over democracy promotion. So I’ve called them as I’ve seen them all along.

As for Annapolis, I haven’t written about it, but I’ve spoken about it. So here, for the record, is what I said on October 19, at a closed event of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The panel was devoted to the Middle East in the 2008 elections, and I shared the podium with Ambassador Dennis Ross. I always speak from prepared remarks, and this is what I said:

Many of the candidates have records of strong support for Israel. But the more relevant question is who has learned from 9/11 to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in proper perspective, and not overvalue the “peace process” as a panacea. Giuliani spoke to this in his Foreign Affairs piece, where he wrote this:

“The Palestinian people need decent governance first, as a prerequisite for statehood. Too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians–negotiations that bring up the same issues again and again. It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism. Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel. America’s commitment to Israel’s security is a permanent feature of our foreign policy.”

This was misinterpreted in some of the press to mean that Giuliani opposes a Palestinian state. He didn’t say that, but he does dissent from the overvaluation of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The war against radical Islam takes precedence. A Palestinian state won’t necessarily contribute to winning it, and such a state could ally itself with our enemies, if it doesn’t rest on the firm foundations of good governance and fighting terror.

Significantly, Giuliani affirms that the Palestinians have yet to earn their state. This was once the position of the Bush Administration, which seems of late to have abandoned it in a go-for-broke gamble. So we see Secretary of State Rice in Ramallah announcing that “Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” and that such a state is “absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis but also for the Middle East and indeed to American interests.” To judge from the situation on the ground, frankly, it may not be the time, nor is it clear in what way this state’s creation is absolutely essential to US interests.

As we’ve seen time and again, such statements only free the Palestinians from doing what needs to be done to earn their statehood. Only by pushing the so-called political horizon back, not forward, is there any chance the Palestinians will run to reach it. The over-privileged “peace process,” as traditionally configured, has had the opposite of its intended effect, making the two-state solution still more remote. It needs to be re-engineered.

I provide input to the Giuliani campaign, not output, so I speak only for myself when I say that Annapolis seems to me a textbook case of how not to move forward.

My critic, Ira Forman, is a professional party hack, so he’s written the only thing he could have written. I’d urge voters, especially those with a keen interest in Israel, to do what I’ve done: think independently, judge the policies offered by candidates for their cogency and consistency, and make a choice without regard to party. It’s the American way.