by Zalman Shoval
The disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem cannot be explained by policy differences, diverging assessments and a lack of chemistry. It all boils down to fundamentally different -- almost irreconcilable -- philosophical approaches on world affairs and on the Middle East in particular.
In a recent New York Times piece by David Samuels, U.S. President Barack Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes shed light on the manipulative tactics the Obama administration used to "sell" the Iran nuclear deal to the American people.
Obama and Rhodes are hardly the first to use the press to further political ends. But Rhodes, according to Samuels, "rewrote the rules of diplomacy for the digital age" by mastering data communication. He took it to a much a higher level, one that could aptly describe the characters in George Orwell's "1984."
Jon Favreau, who was Obama's lead speechwriter and who is still a close friend of Rhodes, was interviewed by Samuels for the piece. According to Samuels, the "restructuring of the American narrative" was, as Favreau described it, his "entire job." No less.
According to Samuels, the Obama administration wanted the American people to believe that talks on the nuclear deal got serious in 2013, following the election of the so-called "moderate" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. But the talks reached an advanced stage much earlier. Likewise, the administration portrayed Rouhani as a moderate just so it could sell the deal to Congress and the public.
In the New York Times piece, Rhodes essentially says as much: "Yes, I would prefer that it turns out that Rouhani and [Iranian Foreign Minister] Mohammad Javad Zarif are real reformers who are going to be steering this country into the direction that I believe it can go in, because their public is educated and, in some respects, pro-American. But we are not betting on that."
Samuels asked Obama's former Defense Secretary (and former CIA director) Leon Panetta whether the outstretched hand to Iran and the touting of a "moderate" camp was grounded in intelligence. Panetta's response was: "No. ... There was not much question that the Quds Force and the supreme leader ran that country with a strong arm, and there was not much question that this kind of opposing view could somehow gain any traction."
Panetta also conceded that he was not shown the secret letters Obama sent to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2009 and 2012.
"One of his most important jobs was keeping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, from launching a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities," Samuels writes. "And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they're developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen," Panetta says. When Samuels asked him whether he still believed Obama was serious when it came to preventing Iran's nuclearization, he answered: "Probably not."
Samuels describes Rhodes as "the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from POTUS [the President of the United States] himself." But apart from the Iranian issue, the profile piece sheds lights on some of the other paradigms guiding the Obama administration.
Rhodes, who is described as the 38-year-old "boy wonder of the Obama White House," was born to a Jewish mother and a Christian father from Texas, who used to take him to church once a month.
"Rhodes felt like the Jewish kid in church, the same way he felt like a Jewish Christian at Passover Seders," Samuels writes. Maybe this explains his conflicted personality on other issues.
Rhodes believes his predecessors subscribed to an outdated approach.
"We can do things that challenge the conventional thinking that, you know, 'AIPAC doesn't like this,' or 'the Israeli government doesn't like this,' or 'the Gulf countries don't like it.' Samuels writes that, according to Rhodes, the Iran deal was aimed at creating "the space for America to disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East."
Rhodes has preferred to duck the tough questions on the quagmire in Syria or on the ties between Iran and Hezbollah, just as he ignored the tough questions during the nuclear talks with Iran. This approach has served the over-arching paradigm governing the administration when it comes to the Middle East.
The disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem cannot be explained by policy differences, diverging assessments and a lack of chemistry. It all boils down to fundamentally different -- almost irreconcilable -- philosophical approaches on world affairs and on the Middle East in particular. The question is how this situation will affect relations come January 2017.
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