Parroting State Department Nonsense

One advantage to having some expertise in the field of U.S. Middle East policy is that it allows me to see the transparent efforts by opponents of Bush Administration policies to shape policy through anonymous leaks to the press. Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize they’re being given a thoroughly distorted picture.

Take, for example, a recent story by Washington Post State Department correspondent Glenn Kessler. As is the case with most of his stories relating to Israel, it is filled with leaks from Arabists inside and outside the department. It may be that he is just trying to do his job and report whatever anyone will tell him about policy, but it may also be an example of how a biased reporter distorts the news to fit his bias by selectively quoting people who agree with his point of view.

Let's assume Kessler has benign motives since we have no evidence to the contrary. One question that immediately emerges is the ongoing issue of quoting anonymous sources. The people Kessler quotes are clearly frustrated bureaucrats and their sympathizers who haven’t convinced policymakers by the merits of their arguments and therefore try to either sabotage the policies they disagree with, exert pressure for changes via the press, or simply throw stones in the hope of making themselves look smarter than the decision makers. The grant of anonymity allows cowardly bureaucrats to attack their superiors with impunity through the media, and the reporter knowingly permits himself to be used to advance the publication’s interest in stirring controversy and casting doubt on the government’s policies.

But what of the substance of the Arabists’ complaints? Since Kessler and other correspondents often report what they’re told without knowing or caring about the context, it doesn’t matter that the people criticizing existing policy are the same analysts who have a perfect record for more than half a century of pursuing failed policies. Despite their record, Kessler and his colleagues parrot their mantra that the reason there is no Middle East peace is that the United States has not followed their advice to pressure Israel to capitulate to Arab demands.

In an article examining the outcome of the Palestinian elections, Kessler quotes critics who believe the Administration made a mistake by failing to become engaged in Middle East diplomacy for its first few years in office. This was the Arabists’ refrain throughout those early years and ignored the long U.S. history of failed engagement efforts. In truth, U.S. peace plans have never succeeded.

Many of the analysts who comment on U.S. policy, and at least one was quoted by name by Kessler, are partisans who directed failed policies in past administrations. The two most important agreements that were signed during the Clinton Administration, for example, the Oslo agreement and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, were a result of direct Israeli-Arab negotiations and not U.S. engagement. When Clinton and his advisers did get involved, the results were usually disastrous, as exemplified by the failed summit where Yasser Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state. It is many of Clinton’s advisers, and the even less successful outcasts from the senior Bush and Carter administrations, who often are the favorites of reporters who don’t care that these folks pursued failed policies so long as they are willing to throw stones at the current policymakers.

While Kessler’s piece acknowledged that Mahmoud Abbas is a feckless leader, the blame for his impotence is largely placed on the U.S. for failing to pressure Israel to cave into his demands to freeze settlements, release prisoners or take other measures to help him. This ignores the reality that nothing would have helped Abbas. Israel did release prisoners, but it was never enough, and would not ever be unless every murderer in Israeli jails was released. The Arabists have long opposed Israeli settlements, but their policy prescriptions were the same even before 1967, when not a single settlement existed. The Arabist view is that Israel must make repeated concessions, but the Palestinians are not expected to fulfill promises they first made in the 1993 Oslo accords and repeated in the road map. Thus, we are still waiting for the PA to end violence, confiscate illegal weapons and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

Absurdly, Kessler’s sources suggest that U.S. support of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was a mistake because it deprived Abbas of “a negotiated peace victory.” Can anyone produce a scintilla of evidence that Abbas had the willingness or ability to make a deal?

Kessler quotes critics who maintain the equally preposterous position that Bush’s policies led to the election victory by Hamas rather than the corruption of the very Abbas regime that these sources believe should have been propped up.

The media all too frequently uncritically reports whatever nonsense their sources tell them. Editors refuse to force reporters to do the hard work of getting the bureaucratic cowards on the record because they would then have to work harder to find critics of U.S. policy. Unfortunately, average readers may not be savvy enough to recognize that they are being force fed the personal agendas of frustrated Arabists.

The really sad news is that the discredited views of the Arabists which hold that Israel is to blame for the problems of the Middle East, and the U.S. government’s failure to pressure Israel perpetuates regional conflict, remains as strong today as it was in the years before the partition of Palestine.