Roger Aronoff: Obama’s Middle East Illusions


AIM Editor Roger Aronoff spoke in place of former editor and publisher of The New Republic, Martin Peretz, who cancelled due to illness. Aronoff talked about Obama’s Middle East Illusions, pointing out how Obama’s actions toward Israel had actually set back any chances for a successful negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. Aronoff argued that contrary to the claims of the administration, Obama’s policies have resulted in a Middle East that was far less stable than when he took office, and many of his claims of success are not borne out by the facts.


Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media. He has worked as a journalist, TV producer, director, writer and distributor. He also hosts AIM’s “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio. Roger joined AIM in May of 1997 and has written, produced and directed award-winning documentaries including Confronting Iraq: Conflict and HopeThe Clinton Legacy and TWA 800: The Search for the Truth. He wrote for the Jewish Herald Voice for more than 20 years. In 2008, Aronoff produced, directed and co-wrote an award-winning documentary that aired on many PBS stations called “Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neoconservatism.” In 2009 he produced a weekly public affairs show on PBS called “Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg.”


Obamanation: A Day of Truth
Accuracy in Media Conference 9/21/2012
Speaker: Roger Aronoff
“Obama’s Middle East Illusions”
Transcribed by J. C. Hendershot & Bethany Stotts


ROGER ARONOFF: I think you’ll agree, that was quite a speech.  It’s been quite a morning so far, and I think it’s just given you a taste of what you’re going to see the rest of the day.

I want to just make a couple of housekeeping points.  At this time, the person who was going to be speaking was Martin Peretz; it was based on an article I had seen about him, an interview with him about a month ago in The Wall Street Journal, sort of talking about how he was, for many, many years the Editor and Publisher of The New Republic; taught at Harvard for 40 years; generally thought of as a liberal Democrat; who had come out very strongly against [Barack] Obama and the Democrats over their foreign policy, particularly as it had to do with Israel.  But he notified us a couple days ago he got ill while traveling and, regretfully, couldn’t be here.  It’s worth it to Google it, and find that article—it comes up near the top—so I’m going to talk a little about that in a minute, but I have sort of a couple housekeeping things.

At 11:30 to 1:30, lunch will be served out here, but you can’t bring lunch into this room.  But we have the TV monitors out there so you can watch on that while you’re eating for a few minutes, but we’re going to keep on going with the speakers right on through.  John Fund will be here pretty soon.  I’m going to talk here for a few minutes, and try to get us back on our tight schedule, but the other thing I just want to say is, I want to thank the AIM staff individually, the people who are helping us—Deb Lambert; Mal Kline; A.J. Cooke; Don [Irvine]; Cliff [Kincaid]; Mercedes Amaya; Melissa Barnhart, who has, from long-distance, been coordinating with the speakers, and done a fabulous job—as a matter of fact she just texted me a few minutes ago that it looks great on the webcast, and sounds good, so we’re glad to hear that.  And with that I want to make a few comments.

When we look at the Obama administration’s claims that they have had such a successful foreign policy, and they call this a great strength of theirs—and this is what Martin Peretz was addressing—that Obama came to power promising to restore America’s political and moral standing, and the U.N.’s political and moral standing in the world, but look at what’s happened.  Yes, you know, I’ll give him credit for getting bin Laden, but the way they’ve handled it has not been so attractive, going to the Hollywood people so that they put the film [Zero Dark Thirty] that’s been made about it off past the election, but any theater you go to you see the previews now.  You know, “spiking the football” is a term that’s been often used about what they’ve done, and it’s obviously offended a lot of Navy SEALs and people who were really involved in this—they feel that it has been exploited politically.

But a couple other things that I’ve observed recently.

One thing is, Mitt Romney has been hammered recently for a couple of things that were considered “gaffes.”  One is, he said, “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” and another he said is that “Until the Palestinians change their position, there’s not going to be peace between those two countries.”  Both these things were treated as horrible gaffes—how could he say these things?  Well, they both happen to be quite true: Ask any Israeli what the capital of their country is.  It is Jerusalem.  We have this interesting development at the recent Democratic Convention where they took that out of their platform, the term “Jerusalem.”  They took the reference to Hamas being a terrorist organization out.  Once this became a subject of comment on the news, mainly in the conservative universe, they tried clumsily putting it back in—and you saw how democratic they were: Their own rules required a two-thirds vote to put it back in, and by the third time Mayor Villaraigosa decided he heard two-thirds of the people saying “Aye” and so they put it back in.  But look—what has happened?  I’ll just do a quick survey of what’s happened in the Middle East.

When Obama came to power, the first thing he did was demand that Israel stop building their settlements—any natural development or anything.  This was something that even the Palestinians weren’t asking, but, finally, [Benjamin] Netanyahu agreed to a ten-month moratorium.  Finally, in the tenth month, the Palestinians came to the table, and Netanyahu and the Israelis didn’t want to extend that anymore.  Then you had the incident where Joe Biden shows up in Jerusalem the same day that it was announced that one of the steps in the process of building more housing units in Jerusalem was taking place, and this was treated as this huge show of disrespect for the administration.  Then later came the call by Obama that we need to start negotiations based on the 1967 borders.  What he’s done, whether he knew it or not, was make peace between these two entities farther apart than ever before.  Plus, in addition, three times since 2000 the Palestinians have—all they’ve had to do was say “Yes,” and they could have had a homeland agreed to by Israel.  A lot of people weren’t happy with many of the aspects of it, but it was there.  Today, with Hamas controlling Gaza—Hamas, which was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood and financed by Iran—you know there’s no chance a deal that was available before is going to be happening now.  So you’ve got that.

You look at the situation with Iran.  Have we really isolated them, and made them feel that they cannot go forward?  Well, they seem to be going forward and enriching their uranium, going right ahead with their plans.  Are they isolated?  Well, just last week, or a couple weeks ago, we had 120 nations going there, the Non-Aligned Movement, coming to Tehran for a meeting—including Ban Ki-moon, the head of the U.N.—so they don’t appear very diplomatically isolated, either.  We know they’re getting out around the sanctions.  Israel is very concerned.  Nobody wants to see this war, but what’s what’s better, what’s worse?  Do we want a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons?  It’s really not just for Israel—for the United States and all the countries in the region it would be a disaster.  How is this going to be stopped?

And then let’s look at Egypt, and the inconsistency in the way this administration has sort of dealt with these things.  Egypt: When the turmoil started back in January, 2011, the U.S. Ambassador there, Frank Wisner, basically said that Mubarak must stay, and Hillary Clinton endorsed him, but as things went on we sort of switched sides, pulled out the rug from under Mubarak, and helped defeat him.  At the time the Muslim Brotherhood assured us they weren’t going to be running for President, and there were many people over here, commentators, who were saying, “Oh, don’t worry about them, they’re a very moderate group now.”  Well, if we know their history—you’re going to learn a lot more about that later today from Andy McCarthy and Frank Gaffney, and I think you’ll understand by the end of this day the dangers that they pose on so many levels—and the extent that they have made their reach in this country, it’s a very frightening development.

And you look at Libya.  “Leading from behind” is the term that, I believe it was Ryan Lizza, writing in The New Yorker, reporting on the way it was described to him, this policy.  The fact is, this was the British and the French that led this, and when the U.S. saw it was inevitable, they got on board.  The whole point was, President Obama assured everyone that there was no intent for regime change, it was just about protecting the city of Benghazi and the people with a no-fly zone.  Yet the bombing persisted.  No declaration from Congress.  It went on, and it looked like, “Okay, well, that was pretty easy.  Got rid of Gaddafi, who would mind that?”  But now we see what’s there: It’s a weak government.  We see the rise, again of al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood.  We see how this whole episode unfolded.  Clearly a terrorist act, well-planned, against our embassy; they had advance notice.  Why was this guy—Christopher Stevens, the ambassador—why didn’t he have better security?   Why didn’t they get him out of the country?  CNN has been doing a very good job over the last few days on [Anderson Cooper 360°], talking about this, really pointing out the failings of this administration in protecting our embassies.  Of course, this whole claim—and Pat talked about it quite a bit—that this was all about this film [“Innocence of Muslims”] and there’s nothing—you know, they’re not upset with the U.S. government, and these were demonstrations that came out of that, rather than the obvious: It was 9/11, it was the anniversary.  We see what’s going on there.

Look at the policies in Syria.  This is another example.  When we started bombing in Libya, President Obama got up and basically said, “Look, we don’t stand by while people are being slaughtered.”  Now look at Syria: 20,000 people since then have been slaughtered.  Where is the U.S. leadership—because Russia and China won’t allow the U.N. resolutions to go through on this to really do something?  There’s an absence of leadership there.  It’s weakness.  It’s creating—as Pat Caddell described, there’s twenty of our embassies under siege around the world.  It’s horrifying.  It’s frightening.  The media just wants to look away.  They don’t want to pretend that Obama’s anything but a great foreign policy President who has brought us respect, and brought our standing back in the world, when I think it’s quite clear that that is not the case.

And again, the Romney team and the Republicans need to challenge him on this.  It’s not going to come from the media.  That’s one interesting thing about this political season, that you do have this situation where it’s not just the media, there’s a lot of Super PACs—I mean, I consider MSNBC to be a Super PAC for the Democratic Party and for Obama, but they’re getting a message through.  So there’s a lot of things going around the media to get these messages out.  But look: These are very tense and difficult times.  No one knows what’s going to happen, if this is going to spread, if it’s going to be contained, but Syria is now with Iran in Syria, with Iran in Iraq.

That’s another thing: Obama takes credit for having ended the war in Iraq.  Now, if you followed it, you know there was the status of forces agreement put into place by the Bush administration before.  The time that we were set to leave was set, and Obama’s military people recommended keeping 10,000 troops or so there.  There were reports that he wouldn’t even return the calls that he was getting from the Iraqis, and failed to negotiate a deal where we could keep the troops there to preserve what we had fought for for all these years, whether you agreed with it or not.  And now you see more and more turmoil in Iraq as a result.

Afghanistan?  Look what’s happening there.  I mean, our whole mission left is to train the Afghan police and military so that they can stand up the government against the Taliban, but what’s happened over and over and over this year are these attacks by their police and military on us, to the point where we’ve stopped, now, the training missions, which is the whole policy over there now.  But—yet—we’re slated to stay there until the end of 2014?  Is this all political?  Or is there a real strategy there?

Anyway, I’ll be happy to take a few questions now, and then we’re going to get back on schedule.  I see John Fund has arrived.  We’ll get on with him in just a couple minutes, but I’ll be happy to take a couple questions in the meantime.

Any?  All right.  Okay?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: I know Susan Rice was on TV Sunday saying that the attacks in Benghazi were not a terrorist attack.  Now it’s coming out that they are changing that message.  Who do you give credit for getting the administration to change their tune on this one?

ARONOFF: It almost seemed accidental.  When this gentleman [Matthew] Olsen from the National Counterterrorism Center was speaking before a Senate committee headed by Senator [Joe] Lieberman, he said it was an act of terrorism.  Then, with Jay Carney, they followed up and said, “Well, obviously, it was an act of terrorism” after that.  They’ve sort of been denying it all along.  Before it was just a “spontaneous demonstration,” that “a few bad apples,” you know, “got out of hand.”  So it should be a huge embarrassment but instead  look the media wants to talk about [Mitt] Romney’s latest gaffe about 47%—that was from a four-month-old tape.  So they’re not—like Pat said, the media is totally—they’ve chosen sides.  They don’t want to focus on anything like that, that would make the administration look like they’re being dishonest, that they’re failing, that their policy is failing.  They need to get him through this next election.


AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Back to Syria.  As I understand it, the Alawites are in power [unintelligible] remain the minority.  Do you foresee any kind of resolution to that situation that also preserves the existence of the Alawites?

ARONOFF: You know, you’ve got to be a fool to try to predict what’s going to happen there now.  With Iran’s involvement, with the West totally refusing to step into it, with [Bashar] Assad showing no signs of even considering leaving or stopping—I don’t know.  This could be—if you remember there, was a civil war in Lebanon that lasted for fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990. I was there one month before it broke out, and I remember just what a gorgeous place it was.  I was in Damascus the same trip, and it just—you know, it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to these people.  But look: Syria—it’s hard to pick a side there that we can pull for as far as a good outcome.  I mean, the Iranians are helping the Syrians, but the other side that’s gonna come to power—is it al-Qaeda?  Is it a Muslim Brotherhood force?  I don’t know what the good outcome is, but you would like to see just the horrible bloodshed stopped somehow, even if it’s more places where people can go as refugees and all that—some safe zones—but other than that, it’s really not good.

But anyway, I want to thank you.  I’m going to stop there so we can try to get back on track.  Is Debbie here?  Okay.  Then I’m gonna go ahead and introduce our next guest.