It's pretty amazing the lengths that critics of Israel will go to in order to distort the facts. ~Philip Klein
This is itself pretty amazing coming from someone who insists that J Street is an "anti-Israel" organization, who has been in the vanguard of the effort to misrepresent Tom Campbell's record on the same subject, and who spent part of the presidential campaign engaged in a guilt-by-association attack on Obama on account of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi. The latter involved its own smear campaign against Khalidi, who had done nothing to merit the attack. That followed an earlier attack based on Obama's informal campaign advisor Robert Malley, whose marginal campaign role prompted Klein to speculate that Obama might enter into negotiations with Hamas despite Obama's consistent position that he would never do this unless Hamas renounced violence. Previously, Klein had jumped on the bandwagon trying to demonize Gen. Merrill McPeak for some impolitic but reasonable statements about the political constraints limiting American politicians on this subject.
All of Klein's attacks have involved exaggerating, misrepresenting or overinterpreting remarks, actions and associations that did not mean what Klein thought they meant. When it involves someone with whose views Klein does not sympathize on this subject, he tends to be very sloppy and quick to issue ringing condemnations. So Klein is in no position whatever to complain about others' distorting of the facts, especially when it concerns matters related to Israel and Palestine. He has no trouble misrepresenting the positions of organizations and individuals under the guise of journalism. Now he would like to accuse others of distorting facts, when it does not seem thatWalt and Duss have distorted anything. Neither did Pat Buchanan's column, which was already published yesterday and could not have benefited from any of the denials given by Petraeus yesterday. Buchanan cited the reports inForeign Policy and Yedioth Ahronoth and recounted them exactly. If the reports regarding Petraeus are inaccurate, that could not have been confirmed until Petraeus spoke about it yesterday.
That said, there really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus. In his Senate testimony, he said that what happens in Israel and the Palestinian territories has an "impact" and said yesterday that there is a "spillover effect." As Walt notes, this is "mild, unsurprising stuff." Petraeus now insists that he never said the more provocative things attributed to him in the original report on the briefing, and he also claims that he never requested that the occupied territories be placed in Centcom's area. So, like anyone not blinded by ideology, Petraeus acknowledges that Israeli policy has an effect on the entire region, but he has not made the more specific and provocative claims that have been attributed to him. It's true that some have read too much into the reports about Petraeus, not least Abe Foxman, who overreacted more than anyone. I'm sure Klein will move swiftly to attack Foxman's distortions and absurd accusations any minute now.
When the original report on Petraeus' briefing first came out, I found the story very surprising. As Prof. Bacevich argued very persuasively several years ago for TAC, Petraeus is above all a political general. As Bacevich made clear, Petraeus was the wrong sort of political general:
Yet in presenting his recent assessment of the Iraq War and in describing the "way forward," Petraeus demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst kind—one who indulges in the politics of accommodation that is Washington's bread and butter but has thereby deferred a far more urgent political imperative, namely, bringing our military policies into harmony with our political purposes.
No one who "indulges in the politics of accommodation" is going to take highly controversial, politically explosive positions on a foreign policy issue of this kind. So right away the report didn't make sense to me. That doesn't necessarily mean that the views attributed to Petraeus in the original Foreign Policy report are wrong. It just means that Petraeus doesn't hold those views. Instead, he holds views on the "impact" the conflict has on the "strategic context" that are rather mild and unremarkable by comparison, but which would nonetheless be vigorously denounced by hawks here at home if they were made by anyone other than their favorite general.
Obviously, I agree with the claim that U.S. Israel policy and U.S.-backed Israeli policies contribute to anti-Americanism and aid in jihadist recruitment. For that matter, so did our troop presence in Saudi Arabia before 9/11, our sanctions and bombing of Iraq after the Gulf War, our invasion and continued occupation of Iraq, and our backing for various authoritarian rulers throughout the region. Marc Lynch addressed the impact of the conflict in the context of discussing Al Qaeda's propagandistic exploitation of the Palestinian cause for its own purposes:
An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics.
As Ackerman explained earlier, recognizing these things as contributing factors is a basic requirement of knowing anything about the region:
In none of these cases can you say Had Israel Not Done This, Then That Wouldn't Have Happened, because the counterfactual conditional makes for sloppy reasoning. But you also can't say it had no effect when the ripple effects of Israeli actions on American security are so obvious and manifested. Recognizing that doesn't remotely make you a Blame-The-Jews guy. It makes you a minimally informed and thoughtful observer of the Middle East.
One would like to think that Petraeus as head of Centcom qualifies for this distinction.