What Do The Cables Tell Us About ‘Linkage’?

Jennifer Rubin, the latest neocon hack to fail upward into a job at the Washington Post, insists that the WikiLeaks cables offer “confirmation that the Obama ‘linkage’ argument was pure bunk”:

Recall that the Obama team over and over again has made the argument that progress on the Palestinian conflict was essential to obtaining the help of the Arab states in confronting Iran’s nuclear threat. We know that this is simply and completely false.

This is a complete misrepresentation of the linkage argument. I’m continually amused by the consistent inability of linkage deniers to actually confront the argument honestly and without resort to strawmen. As I wrote previously, if you were to judge an argument solely by the wild pitches it prompts from critics, linkage would appear to be an impressively strong one.

The actual linkage argument is much more modest, and was outlined pretty well by Gen. David Petraeus in March, when he said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “make[s] situations more challenging” in the Middle East:


If you go to moderate leaders in the Arab world, they will tell you that the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process causes them problems, because their concern is that those who promote violence in Gaza and the West Bank will claim that because there’s no progress diplomatically that the only way to get progress is through violence. And that’s their concern. And that was really what we were trying to convey.

That’s why we support Senator Mitchell so much. We have invited Senator Mitchell to every single conference that I have hosted — for ambassadors, for chiefs of defense staff, what have you, which we do about three times a year — because everyone is so keenly riveted on that issue even though, again, it is not in our area. And we keep an eye on it, because we need to know the atmospherics there because they do — there is a certain spillover effect.

Or take Dennis Ross, who said in May that “Pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context” in the Middle East:

Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges… It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.

What do the WikiLeaks cables have to say on this?

A January 2008 cable reports that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Soliman told a Congressional delegation that, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the core issue,” and “contended a peaceful resolution would be a ‘big blow’ to terrorist organizations that use the conflict as a pretext.”

Then there’s this from a February 2010 meeting between Sen. John Kerry and the Emir of Qatar:

38. (C) The Amir advised the U.S. to continue trying to open a dialogue with the Iranian leadership. He also told Senator Kerry the U.S. needs to tell the Israelis they are causing the U.S. to lose the hearts and minds of Muslims. There was a time, such as during the Suez Canal crisis, when the Arabs loved the Americans and disliked the British and French, he said.

39. (C) Senator Kerry asked the Amir how the U.S. goes about changing its reputation. The Amir said first and foremost the U.S. must do everything in its power to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the best way to begin is by moving first on the Syrian track.

From a January 2007 meeting between U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Dubai’s ruler, Mohamed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum:

9.(C) Israel/Palestinians: U/S Burns stressed that the US believes progress between Israel and the Palestinians toward peace is central to regional stability, and supports the creation of a Palestinian state. This would be “the best thing,” MbR replied; a peace deal would make radical groups like HAMAS “everyone’s enemy”.

From the July 2009 Gulf Security Dialog:

16. (C) When the floor was open to general discussion, two topics dominated: Iran and Yemen. The UAE asked whether the USG had any new information since the December 2007 NIE regarding Iran’s nuclear weaponization program; the U.S. team noted that a new estimate was in progress but it was premature to comment. The DMI representative also noted that Iran exploits crises for its own advantage, making the defusing of crises like Palestine and Lebanon imperative if we are to keep Iran in check. In the case of Palestine, he added optimistically, it is time to “cut to the chase” and deal with final status issues; Lebanon is also ripe for progress, he suggested, without a drawn out process.

From an April 2009 meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Amman:

2. (S) The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates. Iran’s tentacles include its allies Qatar and Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi government sometimes seen as supplicant to Tehran, and Shia communities throughout the region. While Jordanian officials doubt dialogue with the U.S. will convince Iran to withdraw its “tentacles,” they believe they can be severed if Iran is deprived of hot-button issues that make it a hero to many on the Arab street, such as its championing of the Palestinian cause. 3. (C) According to the GOJ analysis, Iran’s influence derives from the perception that Tehran is able to “deliver” while moderates are not. The main failure of moderates as cited by radicals is ongoing Palestinian suffering and dispossession despite an international consensus favoring a viable, independent Palestinian state living peacefully next to Israel. The MFA’s Deputy Director of the Arab and Middle East Affairs Department, Muwaffaq Ajlouni, put it this way: “Iran is not welcomed in the Arab world, but it is taking advantage of helpless people.” From Jordan’s perspective, the U.S. would benefit from pressing Israel to proceed to final status negotiations, which would garner Arab support to deal with shared security concerns about Iran.

From a July 2009 meeting between Gen. Petraeus and Lebanon’s Fuad Siniora:

5. (C) Siniora said that Lebanon was encouraged by and supportive of President Obama’s commitment to achieving a comprehensive Middle East Peace. He said the U.S. administration’s recognition of the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an opportunity to push the Arab Peace Initiative forward and to finally achieve a resolution.

No doubt Rubin will dismiss these statements, because, you know, Arabs lie. Except when they say they want us to attack Iran.