Mitchell is optimistic, the El(l)iot(t)s are not


George Mitchell, Obama’s top Middle East envoy, tells the New York Times not to listen to Arab leaders’ public recalcitrance; privately, he suggests, they’re putty in his hands:

“We’ve gotten, over all, a very good response, a desire to act, some public statements to that effect from the crown prince of Bahrain, the president of Egypt,” said Mr. Mitchell, who returned last week from his fifth trip to the region, including stops in Israel, Egypt and Syria. Saudi Arabia’s negative public comments, other officials said, bear little relation to what it is saying in private.

Elliott Abrams, the former deputy national security adviser writing in the Wall Street Journal,  thinks such forays by Mitchell and a passel of other officials signal hard times ahead:

The tension in U.S.-Israel relations was manifest this past week as an extraordinary troupe of Obama administration officials visited Jerusalem. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor James Jones, special Middle East envoy George Mitchell and new White House adviser Dennis Ross all showed up in Israel’s capital in an effort to…well, to do something. It was not quite clear what.

Umm, how often did Abrams visit Israel, accompanied by how many peers? Did that signal "tension?"

Once he gets past his wounded schoolboy posture, Abrams actually has something substantive to say: Making Israel-Palestinian peace a centerpiece of progress in the Middle East will achieve neither peace between Israel and the Palestinians, nor progress in the Middle East:

It is, once again, about the subordination of reality to pre-existing theories. In this case, the theory is that every problem in the Middle East is related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The administration takes the view that “merely” improving life for Palestinians and doing the hard work needed to prepare them for eventual independence isn’t enough. Nor is it daunted by the minor detail that half of the eventual Palestine is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

Instead, in keeping with its “yes we can” approach and its boundless ambitions, it has decided to go not only for a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but also for comprehensive peace in the region. Mr. Mitchell explained that this “includes Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon and normal relations with all countries in the region. That is President Obama’s personal objective vision and that is what he is asking to achieve. In order to achieve that we have asked all involved to take steps.” The administration (pocketing the economic progress Israel is fostering in the West Bank) decided that Israel’s “step” would be to impose a complete settlement freeze, which would be proffered to the Arabs to elicit “steps” from them.

But Israelis notice that already the Saudis have refused to take any “steps” toward Israel, and other Arab states are apparently offering weak tea: a quiet meeting here, overflight rights there, but nothing approaching normal relations.

The WSJ is proving something of a repository for  "told ya sos" from former Bushies. Here’s Eliot Cohen, the counselor of Bush’s State Department, on his boss’s hubris, and Obama’s:

Brimming with confidence in his abilities and certain of the rightness of his views, [Obama] has undertaken a wildly ambitious agenda at home and abroad. He will bring peace between Arab and Israeli, wean Iran from its nuclear ambitions, restructure the international financial system, set us on the path to the abolition of nuclear weapons, reconcile Islam and Christendom, and end global warming, while introducing universal health care at home and bringing the country out of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.


Some of his ambitions will come crashing into ruin, and surely ghastly surprises lie athwart our path. The Bush administration, many of its critics said, fell victim to hubris, the fatal arrogance punished, according to the ancients, by the goddess Nemesis. The Greeks would understand the irony if we discovered that cold-eyed lady, always hovering closer than politicians realize, turning an increasingly disapproving gaze on today’s White House.

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