Saturday, April 3, 2010

Is The Obama Administration Working Toward Engaging Terrorist Groups Hamas and Hizballah or Not?

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By Barry Rubin

The widely read Cable, a publication of Foreign Policy magazine, responded to my article about apparent hints that the Obama Administration and its favorite think tank might be involved in pushing the idea of dealing with Hizballah, a revolutionary Islamist group in Lebanon which is terrorist, genocidally-intended toward Israel, and a client of Iran and Syria.

For my original article, see here.

Despite the fact that I was very careful and responsible, accurately quoting the letter I had received, the article’s headline was entitled, The nonexistent Obama conspiracy to engage Hezbollah,” as if the whole notion was ridiculous. But the only evidence that this isn't happening is a rather unpersuasive, or at least very strange, denial by the project's director.

The author, Josh Rogin, interviewed the head of the project, Thanassis Cambanis, a journalist who is also an adjunct professor (that means he teaches a course) at Columbia University on the story. But guess what? Rogin didn’t interview me. Isn’t that rather unfair, would you say?

According to Rogin, the project's official letter:

“Led Rubin, whose post got wide traction in the blogosphere yesterday, to speculate that `the Center for American Progress is going to issue a report calling for U.S. engagement with Hizballah, and that it has been encouraged to do so by important officials in the Obama Administration.’"

That’s not speculation; that’s what Cambanis’ assistant told me, as Rogin himself admits:

“The Cable reviewed the original email sent from the Columbia student to Rubin. It did state that the project was ‘for’’ the Center for American Progress and `will be presented to senior US policymakers in the administration,’ both of which were incorrect, Cambanis said.”

So let’s get that straight: My article was 100 percent accurate in describing the letter I received but Cambanis said his own assistant simply made up the claims that it was being done for the Center for American Progress and was being presented to Obama Administration officials.

Wouldn’t one expect that Cambanis reviewed the letter before it was sent? And if he did, isn't this a serious misrepresentation on his part? But if his assistant just made stuff up, one should ask if this student is being disciplined or fired. After all that is something pretty serious to make up and send out to mislead people, isn’t it?

Cambanis also rejects the idea that he intends to endorse engaging Hizballah in his report. But everything Cambanis has written shows that he is a strong advocate of the idea. The letter’s writing, as I quoted it, also indicates it. Did the student make that up also?

So we are left with two possibilities: Either the letter was describing a project being done for a research center close to the Obama Administration and it had been arranged to submit it to the U.S. government or Cambanis and his staff made it up.

The Cable seems content to accept Cambanis’ explanation which essentially said: Move along, nothing to see here. Yet that doesn’t satisfy me. Either Cambanis is guilty of a serious misdeed or my “speculation” was close to home. And Cambanis's record makes the idea that he is part of the pro-Hizballah lobby quite persuasive. Which is it?

If Rogin had contacted me, I could have told him some additional things that indicates my conclusions were based on other sources who are aware of this project.

And also, to understand the general framework of the situation, what could be more ironic that the same day this article in the Cable ran, the Wall Street Journal reported:

“Several high-profile former U.S. officials, some with close ties to the Obama administration, met with leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in recent months, raising hope inside the group that its views are being heard at the White House. White House officials and participants in the talks emphasize the meetings weren't sanctioned by Washington. U.S. officials say there has been no change to Washington's insistence that Hamas take a number of steps before official dialogue can begin. Still, the talks have been interpreted by some officials inside Hamas, Israel and the Palestinian Authority” as implying that the Obama Administration was exploring engaging Hamas.

Perhaps their assistants just put it on their schedules without informing them about the meeting? I don’t know if the Obama Administration is going to engage with Hamas—probably not—or Hizballah—more possible. Yet we know there are people lobbying for these moves who are on good terms with the administration or are themselves high-ranking officials. That's not a non-existent "conspiracy."

And, equally important, people in the region believe this is going to happen. What is the effect?

Israel: Can we trust a U.S. government that might be engaging terrorist groups that openly declare they want to destroy us.

Palestinian Authority: Are the Americans going to sell us out? How can we be more moderate? We better stick to a hardline position!

Lebanese moderates: The U.S. government is selling us out. We better cut our own deal with the Syrians and Hizballah!

Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria: The Americans are surrendering! Full speed ahead! Our strategy is working.

Now, even if the Obama Administration has no intention of such engagement by letting this stuff happen its behavior is having a terrible effect on the region.

Incidentally, you’ve probably forgotten the article I wrote reporting on Brennan’s statements about Hizballah. A left-wing reporter said to him conversationally—but at a public function—that Brennan had told him privtely that he wanted to engage Hizballah. Since Brennan is the advisor to President Barack Obama on terrorism-related issues that seems a matter for real concern.

Or to see this mentality at work, look at the State Department Press Briefing of April 2. Hamas attacks Israel, Israel responds. And the State Department briefer says that the better way to deal with Hamas attacks on Israel is to...negotiate!

"QUESTION: -- there were some Israeli strikes in response to rocket attacks. What’s the U.S. – what is the U.S. communicating to the two sides about this?

"MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we’ve said many times, I don’t know what the predicate was for the Israeli action. The Israelis have a right to self-defense. At the same time, as we have said many times, we don’t ultimately think that there is a military solution to this. It’s why we have been pressing the Palestinians and the Israelis to get into proximity talks that can lead to direct negotiations. But we are always concerned that steps taken by either side, legitimate or otherwise, can be misconstrued, can be twisted, and end up causing turbulence that can be an impediment to progress.

"So our message remains to the Israelis and Palestinians that we need to get the proximity talks going, focus on the substance, move to direct negotiations, and ultimately arrive at a settlement that ends the conflict once and for all."

Even if the Obama administration's goal is to reach a two-state solution real fast, does it make sense to suggest that this is going to solve the problem of Hamas, which continues to be a revolutionary Islamist group backed by Iran and Syria while seeking to commit genocide on Israel? And it also wants to overthrow Fatah and turn the PA into an Iranian-backed Islamist regime engaged in permanent war. Regarding U.S. policy, whatever happened to: PA good; Hamas bad?

So if the administration is thinking of opening contacts with two of the most important revolutionary Islamist and terrorist groups in the Middle East, which are also clients of Iran and Syria, it shouldn't just deny that, it should stop playing with the notion and move toward a much tougher position.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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