When Vice President Biden recently told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel’s intention to build thousands of new settlements was undermining U.S. interests in the region, he was reportedly conveying the assessment made by Gen. David Petraeus.
Foreign Policy’s Mark Perry reveals that Biden’s concerns about Israeli behavior endangering American troops stem from a special briefing delivered in January at the Pentagon. On January 16, “team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM],” acting under the orders of CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, presented Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen with a “33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing” outlining the concern that “Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.” The presentation “stunned” Mullen. Perry reports “David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”
After the Obama administration publicly aired its concerns, leading conservatives began quickly attacking. House Republican leader John Boehner (R-OH) said the administration’s admonishments were “irresponsible” and “an affront to the values” of our relationship with Israel. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) accused Biden of a “double standard,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) claimed that the administration was alienating an ally over a protest over a “zoning decision in its capital city,” and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) effectively told “the White House to be quiet on [the issue].”
While conservatives are currently on the offensive against Petraeus’s concerns today, they thought differently in 2007. As the country was heatedly debating our policies in Iraq, leading conservatives demanded that we listen to Petraeus and agree with the views he advocated:
— Boehner said in the Fall of 2007 that Petraeus has “earned” the right to be listened to. In a statement put out condemning a Moveon.org advertisement criticizing Petraeus, Boehner said, “I call on my colleagues to listen to what General Petraeus has to say. He’s earned it.” [9/10/07]
— Cantor said it was important to show that we “stand behind” Petraeus and his advice on Iraq. During an appearance on PBS’s Newshour, the congressman endorsed the “Petraeus plan for victory” and said that supporting him was a way to “send a message to our troops that we stand behind them.” [3/22/07]
— Brownback called Petraeus an “exceptionally smart and thoughtful man.” In a press release lauding President Bush’s appointment of Petraeus as the new top military commander in Iraq, Brownback noted that he knows Petraeus “very well” and that he’s an “exceptionally smart and thoughtful man” who “will do a superb job.” [1/5/07]
— Lieberman and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked their colleagues to “listen carefully” to Petraeus’s advice on Iraq. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in September 2007 titled “Listening To Petraeus” the senators implored their colleagues to “listen carefully” to the General’s advice about how to stablize Iraq. [9/10/07]
General Petraeus is hardly the only defense official who has warned that failing to bring a just end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can lead to Muslim radicalization and endanger our troops. In 2004, the Defense Science Board Task Force noted that our “one sided support in favor of Israel” and failure to resolve the conflict was a leading source of “threats to America’s national security.”
Given how eager the right was to endorse Petraeus’s Iraq solution in 2007, will they listen to him, CENTCOM, and other defense officials about the dangers of not acting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Last winter, the European Union noted in a report that Israel has been using the settlements to “deliberately to alter [Jerusalem’s] demographic balance and sever East Jerusalem from the West Bank.” The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes that “taking on the pro-eviction lobby in Congress and suspending aid to Israel…is the only thing likely to change Israeli behavior.”
,In his prepared testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, Petraeus said, “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. … The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.”