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It’s time for Obama to replay Nixon-to-China on Iran, says William Quandt

Israel/Palestine
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Obama should replay Nixon to China and begin secret preliminary talks with Iranian leaders in Geneva to figure out our shared interests, says William Quandt, the Middle East expert who played a role in the Camp David accords. 

“In the current atmosphere in Washington and perhaps the United States more generally, Iran is still toxic. It’s like Red China used to be when I was a kid. So someone has to come along like Nixon going to China,” Quandt said on Sunday in Cape Cod. Nixon had campaigned his entire life against communism, but he recognized that dealing with China was a strategic necessity. No one regrets his doing so– because he lowered the temperature on the cold war.

“I find it hard to imagine that our current president and secretary of state have that in the back of their mind. But I want them to,” Quandt said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Quandt spoke on the Arab Spring and other developments in the region to an audience of about 200 people gathered at an Episcopal church in Woods Hole, MA, at the invitation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Peace and Justice in the Middle East.

His forecasts on Egypt, Syria, and Israel/Palestine were all bleak.  “It’s a nice sunny afternoon. I don’t want to ruin your weekend, but I didn’t make you come here,” he said.

He was most optimistic re the change in leadership in Iran. The US and Iran have common interests on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, as well as the risk of an Iran-Israel war. An overture by Obama would have to take place “out of the limelight,” by which Quandt seemed to mean, secretly. While he avoided any discussion of the Israel lobby, he said that people in the U.S. are too “crazy” about Iran to have a public discussion of the opening.

The Iranians won’t have talks about the nuclear program without putting everything on the table, and the U.S. has to be willing to have such open-ended discussions, even though neither public is ready for them. So you get people “with real knowledge and authority and responsibility” and “shut them up in a room somewhere in Geneva and let them have a serious preliminary round.”

“To me it’s a no brainer, give it a try.”

The former peace processor had these other observations:

–The US is a bystander on Egypt. “Egypt is in full gear to revert to military rule and perhaps a harsh time for a while.” What does the U.S. have to say about that? “Maybe not much… The United States has by and large been a bystander for some very big changes. That’s one of the things we have to get used to…”

–al-Sisi aspires to be another Nasser. “To me… we’re going back to Mubarakism with a general who looks more like Nasser than Mubarak. This is a man [Abdul Fattah al-Sisis] who wants to be I think a very strong popular military leader, and he has the potential to be that, a popular leader for a sizeable percentage of the Egyptian populace. And he will be exactly the opposite to another sizeable percentage of the Egyptian public.”

–Clinton failed to achieve an Israel/Palestine deal in 2000 because of a lack of pressure (on Israel, Quandt implied). “We did not use our A team on the diplomatic front. Clinton had his charm, he had his abilities, but he was backstopped by a fairly weak team, I believe, and at the crucial moment, he was unwilling to push hard for the kind of deal that was doable.”

–Bush left a potential deal in Obama’s hands. Quandt said Obama had attempted to revive the peace process in ’09 because he’d been briefed by Bush administration officials who told him that PM Ehud Olmert had in 2008 offered more than any other Israeli leader but that Bush had declined Condoleezza Rice’s urging to expend the energy to try and clinch the deal. He’d leave that to the next president. “You could imagine with a little more effort it could have been done,” said Quandt. But within a month of Obama’s inauguration, there was a new Israeli prime minister. “Mr No.”

On the latest I/P talks, Quandt was pessimistic. Kerry devoted an awful lot of energy to getting the talks restarted, but “I do have this uneasy feeling that the next stage hasn’t been really very well thought through.”

Quandt was insistent on a two-state solution. ”People will tell you the two state solution is dead, it’s not going to work any more. Ask those people what the alternative is… it turns out to be a fuzzy notion of, ‘What about a one state solution?'” He characterized this view as Arab progressive, “Why do you buy into this nationalist rhetoric?” approach. But Quandt said that under a binational state, Palestinians would have more power than Jews eventually, “and Israel did not come into existence in order to be voted out of office by an Arab majority in a binational state. Believe me it will not happen. And they’re not willing to trust that they can live safely in a binational state.” So: “one state is way off there in some distant future at best.” 

On the special relationship, Quandt diplomatically made no reference to the Israel lobby. The U.S. is “stuck with the relationship with Israel, whether we like it or not.” It is built into our “genetic” and “political” code that we are going to support Israel. Netanyahu’s 29 standing ovations in the Congress were driven in some measure by the bloc that wants Obama to fail (no mention of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz leading the cheers). And so, our only friend in the Middle East is a country that’s occupying another people in a nasty way, and taking more of that people’s land all the time, in the name of security, at a time when our friend has never been more secure.

When a questioner urged Quandt to cease referring to Israel as a democracy because of its discrimination against Palestinians, Quandt agreed that Israel’s democracy served Jews, but he said that the U.S. had been a democracy even when it was discriminating against blacks and women, and it had had to address those injustices. “Democracy is not a switch that’s either on or off.”

About Philip Weiss

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42 Responses

  1. ToivoS
    August 20, 2013, 4:40 pm

    “and Israel did not come into existence in order to be voted out of office by an Arab majority in a binational state. Believe me it will not happen. And they’re not willing to trust that they can live safely in a binational state.” So: “one state is way off there in some distant future at best.”

    This point is exactly right. If Israel is ever forced into one state, then the Israelis of European ancestry will simply emigrate. I think this is why Norman Finklestein is so critical of the one state advocates because he sees that as leading to the disappearance of Israel. However, Israel will not give up the land it stole in the WB so two states are not possible either.

    • OlegR
      August 21, 2013, 6:25 am

      /then the Israelis of European ancestry will simply emigrate/
      Because of what exactly ?

      • seafoid
        August 23, 2013, 3:07 pm

        Gefilte fish is going to become very scarce, Oleg. What did you think was going to happen?

    • Sibiriak
      August 21, 2013, 9:51 pm

      Toivo

      Israel will not give up the land it stole in the WB so two states are not possible either.

      1)Israel being forced to give up some of that land is at least conceivable. Israel being forced into a single-state is not.

      2)A Palestinian state is possible even with Israel keeping most of the settlement blocs. That would be quite unjust, but possible, nevertheless.

  2. seafoid
    August 20, 2013, 4:48 pm

    “and Israel did not come into existence in order to be voted out of office by an Arab majority in a binational state. Believe me it will not happen”

    The property market will never crash. Believe me it will not happen.
    Global heating is a myth. Believe me it will not happen.
    The Taliban will not defeat the US. Believe me it will not happen.

  3. just
    August 20, 2013, 5:28 pm

    Iran and the US MUST normalize relations. It is a “no- brainer”.

    Let Israel continue to be the intransigent bully and warmonger– give them the cold shoulder for once. It could be the beginning of an honest relationship. It is in our national security interests to make peace with Iran. This relationship needs to heal, NOW.

  4. Tuyzentfloot
    August 20, 2013, 6:02 pm

    Ah yes, democracy is not a switch that is on or off. South Africa was a democracy. That is not just disingenious, it’s useful. Democracies have certain attributes and these attributes were present in Apartheid era South Africa: separation of powers, checks and balances, participation of the public. Democracy for white people’ is a valid description if we can get over the positive, euphemistic load that the word has, and if we keep in mind that part of the population was excluded.

  5. MHughes976
    August 20, 2013, 6:16 pm

    Implying that Israel did come into existence to impose a form of minority rule on the river to sea area and continues to exist for that purpose.

    • James Canning
      August 21, 2013, 1:44 pm

      Israel would have remained contained within pre-1967 borders, had Egypt not provided pretext for the war.

  6. Tuyzentfloot
    August 20, 2013, 6:29 pm

    –The US is a bystander on Egypt. “Egypt is in full gear to revert to military rule and perhaps a harsh time for a while.” What does the U.S. have to say about that? “Maybe not much… The United States has by and large been a bystander for some very big changes. That’s one of the things we have to get used to…”

    .
    That’s sort of what one would expect to happen indeed. The MB doesn’t have the clout. The other countries aren’t objecting enough.

    Just one thing: contrary to reports, I believe the majority of the population feels robbed, not just the MB or the islamist parties. That’s what the poll says that El-amin reports on here http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/16/bloodbath-on-the-nile/ .
    But if money starts flowing back in (after being withheld before the coup I suspect)in their resistance could be managed.

  7. Kathleen
    August 20, 2013, 6:43 pm

    Quandt stating that those who are pushing for a one state solution ( which has in so many ways become the only solution) idea are a “fuzzy notion” is just inaccurate and silly. Those pushing for a one state solution know exactly what would happen if the West Bank, Gaza, Israel became one state. One person, one vote and democracy would really come to be and Israel as it is would no longer exist.

    Former Bush administration officials (who stood against the invasion of Iraq) and formidable middlle east experts Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett have been saying that Obama should “replay the Nixon to China trip” and apply that strategy to Iran for years now. Going to Tehran is such a great place to go daily if you want to keep up with the Iranian situation. Also Syria etc. Flynt has many articles over at the New American Foundation website too.

    • James Canning
      August 21, 2013, 1:43 pm

      Great post, Kathleen. And you are quite right, that “one-state” solution would mean Israel would be dissolved. One might call this a bit “fuzzy”, accurately?

    • Sibiriak
      August 21, 2013, 10:02 pm

      Kathleen:

      Those pushing for a one state solution know exactly what would happen if the West Bank, Gaza, Israel became one state.

      But those pushing for a 1SS have no idea how such a state can be forced into existence. BDS certainly won’t achieve that, nor will legal actions in the ICC etc. The most promising European efforts, for example, are squarely aimed at a two-state solution, grounded in international law/U.N. resolutions.

      Hostage’s proposal, even if it were realistic, also would lead directly to a two-state, not a one-state, settlement:

      to hold an international peace conference to propose an arbitrated settlement or take some of the issues to the international courts for an arbitrated or adjudicated settlement, and back-up those determinations with international sanctions and embargoes if necessary.

  8. James Canning
    August 20, 2013, 6:50 pm

    Quandt is quite right to call for Obama to make a deal with Iran. Probably of a preliminary nature, however. Israel lobby will not allow a grand “Nixon to China” event. White House should work through third parties.

    • Citizen
      August 21, 2013, 4:58 am

      @ James Canning
      No way the US can work through third parties to actually sit down with Iranian leaders and see the reality of how better diplomatic relations (as distinguished from zero now except threats) would benefit a myriad of mutual interests. The Pro-Israel Lobby (Israel First) would spill the beans before they were even out of the can, and AIPAC lobbyists would be crawling around congressional corridors like cockroaches on a sick invalid’s floor. The beans on the floor would be gone in no time, no time at all.

      • James Canning
        August 21, 2013, 1:19 pm

        @Citizen – – Aipac cannot demand that William Hague not speak to the Iranian foreign minister, or Iran’s ambaasdor to the UN. Aipac can demand that John Kerry not speak to Iranian foreign minister, or Iran’s ambassador to the UN.
        Yes, contacts would have to be indirect, and concealed from Aipac and other extremist “pro-Israel” groups. Meaning, European diplomats would have to do the job without direct discussions with American officials. A considirable challenge.

      • NickJOCW
        August 21, 2013, 9:36 pm

        @ James Canning. I don’t think an independent European approach would work. For sound historical reasons the British are more deeply distrusted even than the US. Despised might be a better word. The UN General Assembly meets from September 23 when I imagine Hassan Rohani will be in New York. it cannot be beyond possibility for Obama and he to have a quiet chin-wag out of AIPAC earshot if only in the men’s room.

  9. James Canning
    August 20, 2013, 6:53 pm

    I agree Israel has never been more secure than it is today. Yet Israeli leaders push for a war between the US and Iran. Thanks, fellas.

    • Citizen
      August 21, 2013, 5:04 am

      @ James Canning
      Israel does not want to dilute its current hegemony in the region. Iran is a contender. In Israel’s eyes, Iran cannot get even one bomb probability, nor can
      the US make nice with Iran in its own best interests. And Egypt must be controlled through its generals because otherwise the Egyptian Street would end Egypt’s role as defender of an Israeli flank.

      • James Canning
        August 21, 2013, 1:23 pm

        @Citizen – – The challenge for Iran is how to stop enriching to 20 without any deal expressly achieved. Other measures could be taken by Iran also, but obviously the problem is not being able to show a quid for the quo.
        Iran clearly would be much stronger today if it had never restarted its uranium enrichment programme.

  10. Patrick
    August 20, 2013, 8:04 pm

    Well the Leverett’s have been advocating for this ‘Nixon to China’ approach for quite some time. It may make sense, but the U.S. has such encrusted policies that it’s very difficult to imagine this taking place, especially under Obama.

    Any sort of reproachment would required that the U.S. come to terms with Iran as a state that has a legitimate role to play in the greater Middle East. And it would also require that the U.S. accept Iran’s civilian nuclear program, in particular it’s right to produce fuel for its nuclear reactors. So far, there’s zero indication that it is prepared to do so. And at the same time, there’s no indication that Iran will capitulate to U.S. pressure and halt its nuclear program. So the U.S. is left with another failing and futile policy that it is incapable of changing.

    • James Canning
      August 21, 2013, 1:40 pm

      @Patrick – – John Kerry hinted during his confirmation hearing that he is open to Iranian enrichment of uranium to fuel the nuclear power plants.

  11. Marco
    August 20, 2013, 11:39 pm

    The bottom line really is that the original China Lobby, that is the Taiwan Lobby, as significant as it was, was never remotely as dominant as the Israel lobby has been.

    Which is no surprise, considering the social, economic, and political position of Zionist elites compared to pro-People’s Republic of China people in the U.S.

    Nixon could go to Red China but unfortunately, given the political hegemony of Zionism in American politics, no American president will make a deal with Iran unless at the minimum major factions of the Israeli establishment agree.

    The only alternative, quite frankly, is that some leader could make such a deal but only when Zionists are not such a major force in the U.S. establishment anymore. Perhaps 50 years from now when it’s more dominated by East and South Asians that could be the case.

    • James Canning
      August 21, 2013, 1:38 pm

      Very true: China lobby did not have the equivalent power of Israel lobby today.

      Moreover, going to China offered considerable benefits in terms of continuing the US programme of containing the USSR etc.

  12. Hostage
    August 20, 2013, 11:43 pm

    I agree that there is no chance for achieving a negotiated one state solution. But there’s no chance of achieving a two state solution through negotiations either.

    All of this empty talk about negotiated settlements reminds me of the aphorism about everything starting to look like a nail, if you only have a hammer.

    I happen to think its past time to hold an international peace conference to propose an arbitrated settlement or take some of the issues to the international courts for an arbitrated or adjudicated settlement, and back-up those determinations with international sanctions and embargoes if necessary.

    • Kathleen
      August 21, 2013, 12:15 am

      yes

    • Citizen
      August 21, 2013, 5:16 am

      @ Hostage
      I agree. I wonder if anyone questioned Mr. Quandt when he told them the U.S. is “stuck with the relationship with Israel, whether we like it or not.” It is built into our “genetic” and “political” code that we are going to support Israel. (Support Israel right or wrong, and no matter if its in our country’s best interest or not?)

      What genetic code? The DNA of America’s 300 million plus population is very diverse. What political code? AIPAC’s?

      I wonder if there’s a video of Quandt’s Q & A at that meeting? Or did he just lecture sans Q & A during or after? How formal was it?

    • OlegR
      August 21, 2013, 6:28 am

      / back-up those determinations with international sanctions and embargoes if necessary./

      Because it worked so well with ?

      • Hostage
        August 21, 2013, 3:11 pm

        Because it worked so well with ?

        For example, when the Congressional Black Caucus here in the US pushed through legislation on UN Security Council-backed sanctions against the Union of South Africa. For more than three decades the United Nations had been trying to pass economic sanctions against South Africa, with no success. That’s when investors and corporations started to pull-out their money and cancel capital projects.

    • Woody Tanaka
      August 21, 2013, 7:31 am

      That may be the only wY out, except that the Lobby would never give the US permission to do it.

      • James Canning
        August 21, 2013, 1:30 pm

        Skilled diplomats sometimes can work around problems like this. Does Kerry have the guts?

  13. dbroncos
    August 21, 2013, 12:07 am

    “…he said that the U.S. had been a democracy even when it was discriminating against blacks and women, and it had had to address those injustices. “Democracy is not a switch that’s either on or off.”

    … and how did the US “address those injustices”? Black American slavery was abolished at a cost of 850,000 American lives, the most lethal war in US history. Jim Crow was abolished not by a peace process but by a mass mobilization of the grass roots after one hundred years of lynchings and hideous discrimination. MLK was martyred to the effort.

    Does Quant have any suggestions as to how the US might “address the injustices” of Zionism other than to surrender our national interest to a foreign country that is “built into our ‘genetic’ and ‘political’ code”?

    • Citizen
      August 21, 2013, 5:21 am

      @ dbroncos
      Yep. Was depressing how little he had to say on that subject. Is he retired? Depends on speeches for pocket money? Why be so blasé about it at this juncture in his life?

    • James Canning
      August 21, 2013, 1:29 pm

      Hideous American civil war was unnecessary, in order to end slavery in the US. This is saddest aspect of the matter.

      • Woody Tanaka
        August 21, 2013, 3:41 pm

        “Hideous American civil war was unnecessary, in order to end slavery in the US. ”

        Oh, baloney. The slavers weren’t going to just give that kind of money away, the slaves were worth too much. Further, the Lost Cause fantasy that slavery was going to go away on its own is an insult to anyone with a brain. Operating an industrial economy without having to pay workers has been a dream of capitalists and finance parasites since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Even if agriculture became less economical, industrial capital would have flown to the South.

  14. Nevada Ned
    August 21, 2013, 2:13 am

    So William Quandt and also the Leveretts think Obama should pull off a “Nixon Goes to China” act.

    Let’s recall the situation that Nixon faced: an endless, losing war against Communism in SE Asia. The war was unpopular at home, and was damaging the US economy. Domestic unrest was rising in the US, and radical voices were being heard for the first time in generations. The McGovern campaign was running an antiwar campaign.
    Victory in Vietnam was impossible, but peace without victory was also impossible. War without end was the verdict.

    So Nixon was under a lot of pressure to do something dramatic. He hoped to get China to side with the US against Vietnam. He failed, and the US lost in Vietnam.

    Obama faces a situation with some similar elements – a lost war but this time in an absolutely crucial region of the world. But where is the US antiwar movement? On hiatus!

    Obama, if he goes to Iran, will be attacked by the Israel Lobby. And Obama will be defended by who? Nobody with any clout. Don’t think it’s gonna happen.

    • James Canning
      August 21, 2013, 1:25 pm

      Nixon needed political cover for final withdrawal of all US troops from South Vietnam.

    • ToivoS
      August 21, 2013, 6:57 pm

      Obama, if he goes to Iran, will be attacked by the Israel Lobby. And Obama will be defended by who? Nobody with any clout. Don’t think it’s gonna happen.

      The lobby’s opposition is to be expected. What Obama has on his side, if he decides to make peace with Iran (big iff) is that a substantial majority of Americans do not want a war with Iran. In addition, our intelligence and military do not want war either.

      If he was to go against the lobby on this he would have to make a public plea for support from his base. Unfortunately, that base is shrinking because of the Snowden revelations. Many people are deeply upset with how Obama has mislead us. Also Obama’s diplomatic blunders over handling the Snowden problem has made rest of the world think we are being guided by an extremely irrational foreign policy. It might make other countries wary of entering into any agreements with the US at this time.

      It is not just the lobby. Obama’s incompetence has to be a major factor here as well.

  15. Citizen
    August 21, 2013, 5:27 am

    “Obama, if he goes to Iran, will be attacked by the Israel Lobby. And Obama will be defended by who? Nobody with any clout. Don’t think it’s gonna happen.”

    Reminds of when Obama told the Jewish Israeli students in Israel that if they want good things to happen, they have to push their leaders for them, make their voices heard. He’s also said things of similar vein at home, in essence, “I agree with your aspirations, what you say, but I need to be pushed, I can’t do it on my own.” Which in turn reminds me of Bush Sr saying he was only one lonely (POTUS) man against the PTB.

    Jewish Virtual Library snippet:
    For many in the Jewish community, Bush’s presidency could be encapsulated in his offhand quip to reporters in September 1991 during an AIPAC lobbying effort on Capitol Hill in support of the proposed $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel: “I’m one lonely little guy” up against “some powerful political forces” made up of “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.” The comment triggered a spate of antisemitic letters and comments for which the president later apologized.

    Bush had opposed the loan guarantees as long as Israel continued settlement in the West Bank and Gaza. The president finally agreed to a loan guarantee package in August 1992, requiring as a set-off any funds Israel spent to build housing or infrastructure in the territories. Despite this action, the political damage was done. The loan guarantee controversy later motivated Jewish opposition to President Bush, who received no more than 12% of the Jewish vote in the 1992 election (down from close to 35% in 1988).

  16. Justpassingby
    August 21, 2013, 11:21 am

    Of course they should, but Obama is blocked by Israel.

    • seafoid
      August 23, 2013, 3:13 pm

      Obama is actually worse than Nixon. A lot worse. the NSA was beyond Nixon’s wildest evil dreams.
      Nixon stood up to the lobby as well…

      http://www.haaretz.com/news/world/.premium-1.543129

      ” Nixon accused the Jews of holding American foreign policy “hostage to Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union,” and added that “the American people are not going to let them destroy our foreign policy — never!” “

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