Team Obama

The best place to hit-the-ground- running is on the Iranian issue.

obama 63 (photo credit: )
obama 63
(photo credit: )
After announcing his national security lineup Monday, President-elect Barack Obama asserted: "I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made." Obama's vision is to strengthen the US's "capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends" to "show the world once more that America is…committed to the ideals [of] democracy and justice, opportunity and unyielding hope, because American values are America's greatest export to the world." With that, the president-elect introduced Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state; said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would stay on in his post; that Eric Holder would take over at the Justice Department; Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security; Susan Rice will become US Representative to the UN, at cabinet rank, and General James Jones will serve in the key coordinating role of national security adviser. The appointments sent a message that was, by and large, reassuring. Clinton is a trusted "brand" in Israel. Gates and Jones are pragmatists who must know that allowing Iran to go nuclear would be debacle of colossal proportions. Moreover, Jones knows first-hand the distance between Tel Aviv and the West Bank. And Rice understands the importance of Israel as a Jewish state. Her UN role will position her as a central player in stopping Iran. These announcements follow word that Obama's national security transition team includes veteran Middle East hand Dennis Ross; James Steinberg (who is expected to work for Clinton at State); Daniel Shapiro, Obama's Jewish outreach coordinator, and Jeremy Bash, a former congressional and AIPAC staffer. The lone discordant note was the appointment of Samantha Power to the relatively low-level job of assisting Clinton in preparing for her Senate confirmation hearings. Power has said that US military assistance to Israel should be redirected to the Palestinians; that Israel is a major human rights abuser, and that an international force should be sent to protect West Bank Palestinians. Leftist ideologues in Israel are lobbying for the appointment of retired ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to be the administration's Middle East envoy. Were Obama to take their bad counsel, Kurtzer would arrive, not as an honest broker, but as a divisive figure whose views are at variance with those of mainstream Israel. THE Obama administration can be expected to pursue the same fundamental US Mideast policy that has been in place since 1967: finding the right modality to exchange land for peace. This formula nowadays means creating a Palestinian Arab state alongside the Jewish state - an approach Jerusalem embraces on the basis of "1967-plus" so long as the Palestinians drop their demand for the "right of return." The temptation, however, to view the Palestinian issue as the nub of the problem radical Islam has with the civilized world must be resisted. Of course, Israel's existence is one of their grievances, but their chief complaint is that Western values - tolerance and liberty - are encroaching on the Muslim world. This is the message of Islamist terror from 9/11 to Mumbai. As the Obama team takes over on January 20, neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be in a position to make substantive negotiating progress. Israel will be in post-election diplomatic limbo, while the Palestinian polity will still be physically divided and politically fragmented. So the best place to hit-the-ground-running is on the Iranian issue. In introducing his team, Obama said, "The spread of nuclear weapons raises the peril that the world's deadliest technologies could fall into dangerous hands." So it follows that in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama's team should devote their principal energies to stopping Iran from building an atom bomb. If Obama shows himself truly committed to preventing the apocalypse-seeking Teheran regime from going nuclear, if he rejects the notion that the mullahs can be managed via deterrence, he will lead his team in pressing for full bore sanctions, backed by the threat of force as a last resort. This does not preclude talking to Iran. It only means he'd have their full attention. If Iran gets the bomb, Hamas and Hizbullah will be emboldened and Muslim moderates throughout the world will be marginalized. So, too, will the idea of taking risks for peace.