by Stephen Bryen
Years ago when I worked for Senator Clifford Case (R-NJ) on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senator was especially fond of telling a story about his colleague and friend, John Sherman Cooper.
Senator Cooper (R-KY, born 1901 died 1991) was down south campaigning for a friend. Stopping off in a little hamlet, so the story Case told goes, Cooper gave a little speech promoting the candidacy of his friend. In the midst of the speech, which was in a small country store crowded with older gents, a voice in the back hollered “That, sir, is a crock of beans.” Beans is not the word, but you get the drift. Cooper, a southern gentleman himself to the core, was taken aback by the chilling voice from the back of the crowd, but he mustered his strength and continued a little longer until the same old man again hollered, “That, sir, is a crock of beans.” At this point Cooper stepped down from the box he was standing on to give his campaign talk. A number of the older fellows gathered around, and to soothe the Senator they told him, “Senator, don’t pay any attention to that old man in the back there. He is truly addle minded. His outburst was, you know, really nothing. He just says what he hears.”
This charming story Case used to make a point about what you say and hear in politics.
Maybe we can make the point again –this time in connection with the Israeli Defense Minister’s comments about his opinion of Secretary of State John Kerry and his “peace mission” in Israel.
Israel has a lot of angst about the United States these days, and it is understandable. While officially regarded as a close ally, the U.S. has rather gone out of its way to destabilize the region through its support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which helped bring down the corrupt but reasonably reliable Mubarak regime, by Obama’s coddling of Turkey as it trended more and more toward a more Islamist less democratic country, turning a blind eye to Turkey’s under the table oil and gold deals with Iran, by the administration’s failure to enforce its declared “red line” on chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime,by the U.S. abrupt pullout from Iraq resulting in a growing collapse of stability and a tumble toward largely sectarian civil war, and most of all Obama and Kerry’s decision to lift sanctions on Iran resulting in a rush by our friends in Europe to make deals with the Iranian regime, and more darkly making Iran’s march to nuclear weapons power a certainty by removing any retaliatory threat to the regime.
All these things in Israeli eyes, and in the eyes of others in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia, create an existential danger and vastly diminish American power and prestige which is a vital ingredient of the balance of power.
A defense minister in Israel would have to be near the tipping point, or even completely exasperated when the American interlocutors hand him an absurd plan for creating a Palestinian state and assuring it’s “peacefulness” with satellites and sensors and other technological trivia.
American Marines and the U.S. Army know very well that Islamic terrorism is low tech but also incredibly ruthless. That is why, despite our best efforts, trying to hold a perimeter was not the best way to stop fanatics. The only way is to go on the offensive and root them out. Otherwise you are constantly dodging IED’s and suicide bombers.
Over the past ten years, in a small way, my wife and I have been working with our wounded soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never been more impressed with their resolve and commitment; with their fighting spirit, and their incredible dedication and optimism. But at the same time, to sacrifice them by trying to hold territory and guard perimeters only creates more casualties and does not bring a lasting victory. My late colleague Fred Iklé (Dr. Fred Charles Iklé 1924–2011) used to say that you better define victory before you get into a fight.
The same is true in Israel. They have had their share of bombings and killings, of rockets and suicide killers. Because they are protecting a country, meaning a territory and borders, either they need a forward strategy to protect their population, or they will be victims of more and more attacks by radical Islamic forces. If Israel’s Army is not able to hold the lid on the West Bank, in a minute the West Bank will be taken over by radicals and the war will be spread to every Israeli population center. A bunch of sensors and satellites is not ever going to stop it. Only an Army that can patrol the space and stop them before they bring harm and devastation. You don’t get national security from remotely operated technology.
A good example of how technology is not a solution is the U.S. use of drones equipped with Hellfire missiles.. The U.S. pursues al-Qaeda with drones. It has killed many al-Qaeda leaders and even more unfortunate civilians (which the administration does not talk about). It has not stopped al-Qaeda, which every report shows gathering more and more strength. In fact, the drone strikes make heroes out of al-Qaeda and their Taliban buddies.
This is what the Defense Minister of Israel, Moshe Ya’alon, was saying. He sees the Kerry mission as a another deadly notch in the existential gun. And he has had enough. That, certainly, is why he spoke out.
But to think he is alone would be a mistake. Remember the old man in the back of the room.
While the U.S. government is offended by rough talk, maybe the Obama administration ought to pay attention to the message.