Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Blog

Today’s appointment of Denis McDonough, the President's Deputy National Security Adviser, to the post of Chief of Staff highlights yet again the President's goal of filling the most important positions in his administration with trusted friends who have national security backgrounds. During today’s press conference, the president lauded McDonough’s experience working across the aisle to tackle some of the administration's top priorities, including gun control, immigration, and the budget. 

Denis McDonough is well acquainted with the Arab American and American Muslim communities. Throughout the president's campaign, McDonough met with a number of community leaders from the American Muslim community, including in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home to the oldest mosque in the country. He is also a regular fixture in meetings with members of the Arab American community and briefs them on national security and foreign policy issues. 

In response to Peter King's radicalization hearings, McDonough called it counterproductive to accuse the American Muslim community of complicity in terrorism. On the eve of King's radicalization hearings, McDonough spoke at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, VA, praising the work of Imam Majid of ADAMS and emphasizing the Administration's policy of not signaling out or demonizing any particular community when tackling national security threats. "We must resolve that, in our determination to protect our nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few. In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association," said McDonough.  

In August 2011, when the White House released its strategy on combatting violent extremism, the administration was careful in pointing out that casting broad suspicion on American Muslims will likely alienate the community and provide more ammunition for extremist groups to use in their recruitment efforts to American Muslims. 

It’s unclear how McDonough’s new position as Chief of Staff will affect Obama’s decision-making on US policy toward some of the more pressing issues in the Middle East, such as Syria and Palestine. Based on our briefings with McDonough during which Palestine was discussed, it’s clear that he considers a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an important priority for the administration and believes a resolution is in the interests of the US. It’s hard to imagine that McDonough as Chief of Staff will pay less attention to Palestine and the deteriorating situation in Syria than he did as Deputy National Security Adviser. That may not be altogether encouraging, though, given the lack of headway made over the past four years on pushing the Israelis to stop settlement construction and to sit down with the Palestinians.

Aside from McDonough, perhaps John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State gives us more insight to the likely policy on Israel/Palestine. During his confirmation hearing yesterday, Kerry said that Palestine was at the nexus of much of the unrest in the MENA region: "All of this is tied to what can or doesn't happen with respect to Israel and Palestine." He also said that allowing the prospects for negotiations on a two-state solution to fall through the cracks would be “disastrous.” Kerry is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next month as one of his first trips as Secretary of State. He’ll need all the help he can get from the White House, and based on past experiences with McDonough, we have no reason to believe that he could be a hindrance to a peace plan, and we hope that he will help further the process.

comments powered by Disqus