Posted on November 20, 2013 in Countdown

Still Searching for a Strategy

The Daily Beast reported on more infighting between top Obama Administration officials on US policy in the Arab world. The flavor of the week is the United States’ policy on Egypt. Rifts between National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry have moved from private deliberations to the public sphere, as the two administration heavyweights appear to be reading from two very different scripts in their responses to the trial of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and Egypt’s military rule. One administration official said the unfortunate infighting is another example of how the White House “has steered America’s approach to Egypt in a way that conflicts with the views and desires of the State Department and the Pentagon.” This is not the first time clashes between Obama’s highest officers have been reported. There was great disagreement over how to respond to the uprisings in 2011, as well as whether or not to militarily intervene in Libya, arm Syrian rebels, or militarily intervene in Syria. While disagreements and candid discussions are important and necessary steps in the decision-making process, we still have to ask: who is running the show? If the White House wants to dominate the foreign policy process, a comprehensive and united strategy would be much appreciated, especially in the public eye. Rifts between high-level policymakers should stay inside the Executive Branch, not lead to muddling of US foreign policy abroad. 

Talk About Rifts

Not only are U.S. administration officials clashing over foreign policy, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to widen rifts between world powers, and between members of the United States Congress, over an Iranian nuclear deal. Netanyahu met with French President Francois Hollande on Sunday and is scheduled to travel to Moscow to see Russian President Vladimir Putin. But as for the US, apparently even the schedulers aren’t talking: Netanyahu announced Secretary Kerry would visit Israel this weekend, but Kerry stood him up, and said he won’t visit until after Thanksgiving. Netanyahu’s tough position is already making waves in Congress, where legislation to impose new sanctions could make it to the Senate floor before the Geneva negotiations resume. The Obama Administration opposes new sanctions, and President Obama will brief key Senators on Iran negotiations to urge them to hold off on sanctions. Netanyahu says he wants to make sure “a better deal” is reached, but it looks like he just wants to prevent any deal at all. While Netanyahu may fear closer ties between the United States and Iran and distrusts Iran over its nuclear issue, his destructive tactics to postpone negotiations and increase tensions before knowing the final terms of a deal are hindering diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Regional tactics by all sides to frame the issue as “agreement or regional conflict” is sure to lead to another week of tough diplomacy in Geneva. Not for nothing, but a new poll revealed that there is overwhelming bipartisan support among Americans for a nuclear deal with Iran on similar terms to those being proposed in Geneva. The hawks are on the wrong side of public opinion.

Obama Needs to Tell the Israelis We Mean Business

You may have missed it, but last week, the Palestinian negotiation team engaged in US-brokered talks with the Israelis resigned. The delegation left the talks a day after Israel’s housing authority announced that it would build 20,000 new units in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is, of course, not the first time the Israelis announced new settlement plans during the talks. In August, just two days before the resumption of talks between the two sides for the first time in five years, Israel announced plans for about 1,200 new settlement homes; some 800 of them were planned to be in in East Jerusalem. The day of the initial announcement, The Onion ran this headline: “Israel Builds New Settlement To Host Palestinian Peace Talks.” Funny, but not really. The administration is no doubt frustrated with the Israelis – that came through in a few public statements issued by Secretary of State John Kerry about the settlements – but ever since Israeli Economics Minister Naftali Bennett came to lobby Congress against a potential diplomatic approach to address Iran’s nuclear program, the administration has been silent. We, on the other hand, will not let the issue go. We will continue to raise awareness about the detrimental nature of settlements to peace as we attempt to shift the discourse in the US toward finding a path to peace. Yesterday, we cosponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill with a delegation of Israelis and Palestinians from the village of Wadi Foquin to talk about the issues they face on the ground. For its part, the administration should know that the longer they wait to pressure the Israelis to get serious about negotiations, the less likely the Israelis will be willing to take the US seriously when we mean business. That’s what the President must do: tell the Israelis we mean business.

Bed Mandates: People, Not Parking Tickets

In June, we reported on an arbitrary policy that requires US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to fill at least 34,000 beds at detention facilities per day, commonly known as the “bed detention mandate.” The bed detention mandate, first enacted in 2009 as a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) annual appropriations bill, is part of the widespread effort to increase enforcement-only immigration policies over the last two decades. However, implementing the statutory quota system has come at great costs to taxpayers. It costs at least $120 to detain one person each day, which adds up to more than $2 billion in taxes a year to maintain the arbitrary bed quota for detention centers across the nation. Although supporters claim that the bed mandate ensures deportations are carried out, critics argue that the policy is very expensive and resource intensive. In fact, former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that we should be “managing the actual detention population to risk, not to an arbitrary number,” and Reps. Theodore Deutch (D-FL) and Bill Foster (D-IL) sponsored an amendment to eliminate the bed detention mandate back in June. Nevertheless, the status quo remains unchanged as the House failed to approve the amendment in June and continues to reject negotiations on the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, which calls for increased use of less expensive detention alternatives. Money, however, isn’t the issue here. How does any detention policy which requires a certain amount of people to be incarcerated per day make any sense? Answer? It doesn’t, and that’s why literally no other law enforcement agency in the country besides ICE has a policy like this. These are people, not parking tickets. 

Obama’s Ratings Hit an All-Time Low

Following the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings plummeted to an all-time low, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday. Obama’s overall approval rating is down to 42 percent, with a record 55 percent disapproving of the way he is handling his job as President. The significant decrease in Obama’s approval rating since October is largely influenced by his handling of the new health care law, as a result of which millions of Americans were angered when their individual policies were canceled because they did not meet the new requirements, contrary to Obama’s repeated assertions otherwise. In addition to the canceled policies, the Obama Administration has faced immense criticism over problems with the implementation of HealthCare.Gov, the federal website designed to allow people to sign up for insurance. A record 57 percent say they oppose the new health care law, a substantial increase from last month when the public remained evenly divided in its assessment of the law. Moreover, 63 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s implementation of the health care law.


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