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Senior advisor to Clinton calls Obama’s rationale for withdrawal from Mideast ‘strange, bizarre, illogical, odd’

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on 29 Comments

Last night Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior adviser on the Middle East to Hillary Clinton, said that a statement President Obama made about the US withdrawing from the Middle East earlier this month was “strange… bizarre, illogical… odd” and reflected “inconsistency and incoherence.”

Wittes spoke at Columbia University on a panel about Israel. She said:

Another thing that the president said to Jeffrey Goldberg that I found surprising was that American energy independence means that the Middle East is just a lot less important than it used to be. And this is a strange notion to me as a political scientist. Because energy is a local market, and we’re a global economic power, and our major trading partners are dependent on Middle Eastern energy. So the fact that we’re pumping gas and you know finding shale oil here and even starting to export does not mean that the Middle East doesn’t matter to us anymore.

It’s a bizarre, illogical conclusion– A. B, it seems odd to me that one can say that the Middle East is of diminishing importance when the United States is in the process of scaling up its military engagements in the Middle East. So I think there’s an inconsistency and an incoherence there that I don’t think the administration is going to be able to reconcile before the end of this year, and again, that a future administration is going to have to figure out.

Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings who was an assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton, was referring to this comment by Jeffrey Goldberg in an Atlantic piece about Obama’s foreign policy:

For Obama, Asia represents the future…. And the Middle East is a region to be avoided—one that, thanks to America’s energy revolution, will soon be of negligible relevance to the U.S. economy.

Panel at Columbia March 28 featuring Jordan Hirsch, Michael Doran and Tamara Cofman Wittes, l to r.

Panel at Columbia March 28 featuring Jordan Hirsch, Michael Doran and Tamara Cofman Wittes, l to r.

Wittes said that like it or not the U.S. is deeply involved in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab uprisings and the weakening of our traditional partners there. Noting that Obama’s Pentagon now wants to put more ground forces into Iraq to fight ISIS, she said the war against Isis was Obama’s primary legacy in the Middle East, not unlike George W. Bush’s legacy of the Iraq War.

On Israel, Wittes said based on her conversations with Israeli security officials it would be a good thing if the U.S. and Israel quickly came to terms on the bigger aid package that Israel is seeking from the U.S.

She took a shot at Donald Trump in this regard. Trump wants to “make the Israelis pay for their defense, right?” she said. “He said that.” Wittes was referring to this statement Trump made a week ago. He said of countries that were able to defend themselves, like Germany and South Korea, that they should “pay us the money” we’ve spent on foreign aid. Asked, Should that apply to Israel? Trump said, “I think Israel will do that also, yeah… There are many countries that can pay.”

Wittes also said that support for Israel was softening in America as we become a minority majority country. She cited Shibley Telhami’s polling on the Democratic base’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

And she got off a Trump quip. She teased moderator Jordan Hirsch and fellow panelist neoconservative Michael Doran, “You don’t want to talk about the size of our hands. Really, what’s more interesting?… Start with a show of hands.”

Update: I changed headline from “Obama’s desire to withdraw” to “Obama’s rationale for withdrawal” after complaint of inaccuracy.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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29 Responses

  1. HarryLaw
    March 29, 2016, 1:39 pm

    Wittes quotes Obama “American energy independence means that the Middle East is just a lot less important than it used to be” then in the same paragraph she interprets that quote thus…”So the fact that we’re pumping gas and you know finding shale oil here and even starting to export does not mean that the Middle East doesn’t matter to us anymore”.
    The logic of the first quote is impeccable, but is twisted by Wittes to mean the Middle East doesn’t matter to the US any more. This is fear mongering from the senior advisor on the middle East to the war Goddess, who probably agreed with her boss when she threatened to “obliterate Iran” and more generally to send in the troops on any pretext.

    • Lillian Rosengarten
      March 30, 2016, 10:22 am

      She is a Zionist and Israel fears aUS pullout. She supports the policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Her words are toxic. I commend Obama and wish he would continue in office for now that he is on the way out, he seems to be more his own man.

      • Atlantaiconoclast
        March 30, 2016, 10:49 am

        Commend him? For what? For NOT being so bad? It doesn’t matter. He has still been bad. He destroyed Libya, and he helped to destroy Syria. He has killed thousands of innocents. He has NEVER made Israel pay for its occupation and colonization. Not once. They should strip of his peace prize. I guess I am racist for pointing out Obama’s pathetic rule.

  2. Emory Riddle
    March 29, 2016, 5:44 pm

    These people are nuts.

    And have no regard for honesty.

    And the racism! Over the top.

    American love of Israel lessens because those brown and black untermensch are not smart enuff to love Israel!

  3. Scott
    March 29, 2016, 6:57 pm

    Looks like a packed house.

  4. Qualtrough
    March 29, 2016, 9:27 pm

    “Wittes also said that support for Israel was softening in America as we become a minority majority country.”

    A minority majority country? And she’s talking about others saying strange, bizarre, illogical, odd things??

    • Citizen
      April 1, 2016, 7:09 pm

      latest couple years’ crop of babies have been majority non-white and this trend will continue, and non-whites now form majority in significant parts of USA

  5. Krendall Mist
    March 29, 2016, 9:38 pm

    “On Israel, Wittes said based on her conversations with Israeli security officials it would be a good thing if the U.S. and Israel quickly came to terms on the bigger aid package that Israel is seeking from the U.S.”

    Good thing for who? Good thing for what?

    And in what universe is it normal for a benefactor to need to “come to terms” with the recipient of his largesse over the size of his gift?

    What beggar can “negotiate” a larger handout?

  6. Atlantaiconoclast
    March 30, 2016, 12:48 am

    Oh these insufferable political scientists! Please, let’s just be done with them. Excuse makers for state violence and interventionism.

  7. Krauss
    March 30, 2016, 4:36 am

    Her freakout is similar to that of other Israel lobbyists, they fear American withdrawal. That’s also why neocons support higher military budgets. If they feel so strongly about Israel that their view of American security is distorted, then they should pack their bags and make aliyah.

  8. HarryLaw
    March 30, 2016, 5:03 am

    Krendall Mist, Good for America obviously, 3 billion dollars a year, ‘chicken feed’, hell the US has spent 4 to 6 Trillion dollars so far fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq [Linda Bilmes Kennedy Law School] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/study-iraq-afghan-war-costs-to-top-4-trillion/2013/03/28/b82a5dce-97ed-11e2-814b-063623d80a60_story.html mostly on Israels behalf, if they don’t cough up 5 billion then the Israelis [like any good blackmailer] will play hardball and ask for 10 billion. The Israelis are in a good position with the US elections ahead, could we see candidates vying with one another on the security of Israel and how Iran is supplying Hezbollah with 10’s of thousands of new guided missiles. With Israels security at stake why can’t US senior citizens and the vast army of citizens receiving welfare benefits tighten their belts, stop being greedy, [Hej] and give more to Israel, so that they can continue to steal and ethnically cleanse more Palestinian land and kill more Palestinians? More importantly, what’s an extra 2 billion to Israel when there is an American election to be won?

  9. eljay
    March 30, 2016, 10:35 am

    … Wittes spoke at Columbia University on a panel about Israel. She said:

    Another thing that the president said to Jeffrey Goldberg that I found surprising was that American energy independence means that the Middle East is just a lot less important than it used to be. And this is a strange notion to me as a political scientist. Because energy is a local market, and we’re a global economic power, and our major trading partners are dependent on Middle Eastern energy. So the fact that we’re pumping gas and you know finding shale oil here and even starting to export does not mean that the Middle East doesn’t matter to us anymore. It’s a bizarre, illogical conclusion– A. …

    It’s neither strange nor a “bizarre, illogical conclusion”:
    – Energy independence = less reliance on M.E. resources.
    – If America’s major trading partners need M.E. oil, that’s their problem and not America’s.

    … B, it seems odd to me that one can say that the Middle East is of diminishing importance when the United States is in the process of scaling up its military engagements in the Middle East. So I think there’s an inconsistency and an incoherence there …

    We are told that military engagements are for the purpose of delivering freedom and democracy, not for defending oil or other resources or for asserting hegemony. No inconsistency or incoherence.

    … On Israel, Wittes said based on her conversations with Israeli security officials it would be a good thing if the U.S. and Israel quickly came to terms on the bigger aid package that Israel is seeking from the U.S. …

    Israeli security officials must not have received the memo from Zio-HQ telling them that Israel doesn’t need any help from anyone.

  10. Boo
    March 30, 2016, 10:49 am

    It’s amusing that HRC is doing everything she can to hitch a ride on Obama’s coattails, while still criticizing — either herself, or by proxy as in this case — the foreign policies that she was tasked with carrying out. There’s a considerable cognitive disconnect at work here, and I don’t think it’s endearing her to the fellow she hopes will jump out and offer his support even before the convention. Her ongoing snipes are turning that into a forlorn hope.

  11. ritzl
    March 30, 2016, 11:10 am

    The Center for Middle East Policy is a Saban-funded think tank. Say no more.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_Middle_East_Policy

    Funding

    The center was originally named after American-Israeli film and television producer Haim Saban. Saban, according to the center[1] and its parent organization,[2] “made a generous initial grant and pledged additional funds to endow the Center.” According to a press release from Saban’s charitable foundation,[3] Saban “donated $13 million for the establishment of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.” Saban, according to the center,[1] ascribed his involvement to his “abiding interest in promoting Arab-Israeli peace and preserving American interests in the Middle East” that led him to fund the center.[1]

  12. yonah fredman
    March 30, 2016, 11:17 am

    Amazing self confidence by commenters here, knowing precisely the ideal role of the US in the world. I have been trained in Podhoretz think, and do not accept it. Neither do I accept McGovern think. Certainly the middle east and the European economy not to mention immigration and refugee crises is so simple that one can contemplate pulling one pick up stick out of the pile and expect nothing else to move. Certainly the arrogance of the neoconservatives in using their president in the guise of a vice president to fight the second war against sadam hussein is sufficient to justify a reaction in kind, yet knee jerk McGovern (come home america) rhetoric does not convince me.

    The comparison to Cuba is facile. What is the biggest crisis in this hemisphere. Nothing blatant comes to mind. In a vacuum do what you want on cuba. Who cares? But the middle east is a mess and knee-jerk acceptance of Obama’s mindset may be a necessary balance to President hillary’s interventionism, but I am not convinced, by the superficial words here.

    • eljay
      March 30, 2016, 11:45 am

      || yonah fredman: Amazing self confidence by commenters here, knowing precisely the ideal role of the US in the world. … ||

      Funny, I don’t see anyone – never mind multiple “commenters here” – claiming to know “precisely the ideal role of the US in the world”.

      || … the middle east is a mess and knee-jerk acceptance of Obama’s mindset may be a necessary balance to President hillary’s interventionism, but I am not convinced, by the superficial words here. ||

      I’m not convinced by superficial words that it’s America’s job to police the world, to destabilize and overthrow governments, to populate countries with its military installations and soldiers, to secure for itself access to ME resources.

      I believe that it should be:
      – the job of every country in the world to universally and consistently uphold and defend international laws and human rights (i.e., justice, accountability and equality); and
      – the right of every country to freely engage in mutually-beneficial trade and other forms of enterprise.

      Sadly, Barry and Hillary show no sign of sharing my belief.

      • Mooser
        March 30, 2016, 4:57 pm

        “Eljay”, I got as far as ” I have been trained in Podhoretz think…”
        and plotzed . Needed a quick plotz-and-soda before I could continue.
        Has anybody anywhere, ever bragged about being one of the ‘Podhertz people’, before?

    • Mooser
      March 30, 2016, 4:43 pm

      “I have been trained in Podhoretz think…”

      Well, “Yonahy” I’d tip my kippah to you, (‘but I haven’t got a kippah‘), I am in awe of your steely self-examination.
      It’s a very brave man who can make that damning an admission against himself.

      So “Yonah” you’ve “been trained in Podhertz think”. (There’s a infamous sample) Do you have any plans to do anything about that? Stupid and bigoted is no way to go through life.

  13. Theo
    March 30, 2016, 12:36 pm

    “Even if the ME is less important to us, our trading partners depend on that source of energy”.

    Im my opinion it is time the USA stops being Uncle Sam to the whole world and let our “cousins” dig the chesnuts out the fire themselves! The NATO could do this job without the participation of us, those countries grew fat during the past 50 years, meanwhile we sink more and more into deep indeptedness. Tamara Wittes must be jewish and what she really mean is that we must stay in the ME to ensure Israel´s security againsts great odds. Israelis have less children than the arabs and what this means could be illustrated with the history of several countries in Europe, and probably on other continents, too.

    I second Obama´s decision to pull back from the ME, during the past 70 years it costed us billions of dollars and thousands of dead americans, let other nations have the fun in case they need the energy from there. On the other hand one can just buy their oil, without invading their country, bombing their towns back to the middle ages and killing millions of their citizens.

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      March 30, 2016, 7:14 pm

      I keep seeing this demographic claim, but I have seen claims by supporters of Israeli settlers pointing out that the Israeli settlers birthrate is significantly higher than that for Palestinians. And Obama has not really pulled back. The CIA has been involved in the Syrian Civil War from the beginning and still is. The only pullback has been on Pentagon aid to the “rebels.”

      • Theo
        March 31, 2016, 12:55 pm

        I did not say palestinians, but arabs, and I really doubt that the settlers can match the birthrate of millions of arabs living around Israel. One day they may join together to fight the colonists in their mids.

  14. Theo
    March 30, 2016, 12:56 pm

    Anyone interested in the wrong doings of the Clintons should go to YouTube and type in Hillary Clinton lies. You have a great selection of crimes commited by them, legal actions against them, fines they had to pay, friends and associates charged, jailed and even killed.
    Sounds better than many thriller you can buy.
    And this person, who should be in jail for rest of her life, wants to be the next presiden? Bill and Hillary are a two person crimes syndicate!

  15. James Canning
    March 30, 2016, 1:10 pm

    The epic stupidity of George W. Bush, in invading Iraq in 2003 and disbanding Iraqi army and security services, largely led to the creation of Isis.

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      March 30, 2016, 7:15 pm

      Yes, he was ultimately responsible, but the bigger traitors were those in his Office of Special Plans.

  16. SonofDaffyDuck
    March 30, 2016, 6:15 pm

    Can’t we have an AIPAC “Stamp of Approval” accompanying the utterances of the Wittes, Goldbergs, Brooks etc, etc of the media so that their orientation toward Jerusalem can be taken into account when they do stuff like this?

    My country is paying too much too often too long for too little return in the middle east

    • Theo
      March 31, 2016, 12:49 pm

      You are absolutly right, so please call, e-mail or write a letter or two to your congressman and senator about your feelings. Let us know what did you achive.
      We need millions marching on the streets of the country before our politicians notice what is wrong with their solidarity, however the USA is not known to have huge demonstrations that last until the demands are met. A good example is the OWS movement, that lasted a few days and achieved a big nothing.

  17. Citizen
    April 1, 2016, 7:12 pm

    So, Obama only wants to raise next decade aid package to $40 billion and Israel wants $60 billion, but will settle for $50 billion? Like to be proverbial fly on the wall…Imagine what could be done with that money for struggling Americans….

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