Opinion

David Rohde

Newest victim of congressional wrecking ball: Iran policy

David Rohde
Jan 15, 2014 16:37 UTC

By design or accident, it is increasingly clear that the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s second-term foreign policy is a nuclear agreement with Iran. Whether Obama can succeed, however, now depends on Congress staying out of the negotiations.

Over the last few weeks, 16 Democratic senators have supported a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. They have defied the White House’s intense campaign to block Congress from adding new conditions to any deal.

In this way, Obama is the victim of an increasingly craven Washington — where members of his own party are abandoning him out of political expedience. At the same time, the White House is also a victim of its sometimes erratic responses to events in the Middle East.

For the last six years, the president has repeatedly declared that he does not want the United States entangled in another conflict in the Middle East. As a result, allies and enemies at home and abroad, from members of Congress to Israeli and Iranian hawks, question his commitment to use force against Iran if negotiations fail.

Experts warn that the stakes are enormous. Political opportunism, maximalist positions and mixed messages could take on a life of their own, scuttle the talks and inadvertently spark military action.

John Kerry has not yet saved — or destroyed — the Middle East

David Rohde
Nov 27, 2013 03:20 UTC

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.

For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.

But talk in Washington of a legacy-defining breakthrough for Obama is overstated and premature. So are the apocalyptic warnings of Iranian hegemony now coming from Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Kerry’s triumph may not last long

David Rohde
Jul 19, 2013 19:11 UTC

AMMAN, JORDAN – Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Israeli and Palestinian officials had reached an agreement that “establishes a basis” for the resumption of direct peace talks is a badly needed foreign policy achievement for the Obama administration.

The talks are not yet finalized and seem unlikely to eventually succeed, but six months of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry is the first example of successful American diplomacy in the Middle East in several years.

The difficulties Kerry faced in simply getting the two sides to resume talks three years after the last round collapsed shows how difficult the path ahead will be. The negotiations are so sensitive that he and other American officials refused to release details of the agreement on Friday.

Tech, prosperity and peace on West Bank

David Rohde
May 31, 2013 21:51 UTC

Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting at the Dead Sea, May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young 

RAMALLAH, West Bank – At first glance, it is a tech utopian’s dream. For the last two years, several dozen Palestinian entrepreneurs have been getting training from Israeli high tech experts courtesy of the American firm Cisco Systems.

The sessions feature no talk of politics. Instead, Israelis coach Palestinians on the latest trends in software development processes, best practices and branding.

Make allies, not kill lists

David Rohde
Jan 31, 2013 23:49 UTC

Viewers of Thursday’s  confirmation hearing of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel can be forgiven for thinking they were watching a years-old C-SPAN rerun. The importance of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles dominated initial questioning. Then the war in Iraq was debated. In the end, the issue that most concerned senators from both parties was Hagel’s loyalty to Israel.

During an eight-hour hearing, the difficult decisions that the U.S. military now faces received scant attention. Vast budget cuts loom. Suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder rates are appallingly high. Diverse security threats ranging from Iran to cyber-attacks to al Qaeda in North Africa must be countered.

Overall, a more nimble, modern and smaller American military is needed, but you heard little of that in Thursday’s marathon hearing.

After the ceasefire

David Rohde
Nov 22, 2012 01:01 UTC

For now, the fighting has stopped in Israel and Gaza. But let’s be honest, this is the latest round in a long and bitter struggle. In the future, more bloodshed is likely.

After eight days of clashes, Hamas’ claim that it is the true leader of the Palestinian resistance has gained strength. Long-range rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have made Israelis increasingly wary of a two-state solution. And the deaths of 140 Palestinians, one-third of them combatants, compared to five Israelis, one of them a soldier, will be seen across the Middle East as U.S.-abetted Israeli aggression.

Don’t expect those dynamics to improve anytime soon. In the months ahead, Hamas’ popularity among Palestinians is likely to rise. The more moderate Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas will be seen as increasingly impotent. And Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s conservative government will likely fare well in January’s parliamentary elections. As so often happens in conflicts, one side’s right wing abets the other’s.

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