- The sea change often comes at night, its signals to the
sailor subtle ones, but sometimes large and sudden. This has been a pre-inaugural
period of extravagant speculation by Barack Obama supporters, with an unprecedented
investment of hope-and also of anxiety, as if, after this, there might
not be another chance. More than one Obama supporter has warned himself,
or secretly assumed, in the aftermath of the celebration of Obama's victory,
"now prepare to be disappointed."
- Obama has luck, but on the record of his career it has
been earned luck, the best kind. For that reason, the most heartening news
item I have seen during the entire pre-inaugural period was published in
the International Herald Tribune on Jan. 14, six days before the presidential
inauguration. It reported that the president-elect "has signaled to
top military commanders that he is not satisfied with their timetable for
a reduction of American troops in Iraq and has asked for options to accelerate
- Obama campaigned on a promise to have all American combat
troops out of Iraq by May 2010, 16 months after he takes office. Last month,
a Pentagon delegation discussed the matter with the president-elect, and
afterward its members said they had told him that his schedule was not
realistic. The Iraq government had to be protected, American troops were
needed for security, the future was uncertain. ...
- This was not the first instance of military defiance.
Under George Bush, there were calculated leaks from the military to the
press that the deadlines for departure agreed to by the Bush administration
in its negotiation of an Iraq status-of-forces agreement were unsatisfactory.
- That document required all U.S. combat troops to be out
of Iraq's cities by May of this year, and the rest of American troops gone
by the end of 2011.
- After it was signed, there were off-the-record comments
to the press that "combat troops" is an elastic category; removing
equipment would take much longer than the document called for; and after
all, this deal was with a fragile Iraq government facing elections, and
agreements can be renegotiated.
- The status-of-forces agreement was presented off the
record as something to keep Iraqi politicians happy and give Bush the exit
he wanted, but in fact the United States would remain in control of Iraq,
as it had meant to do from the beginning.
- Shortly afterward, the biggest American embassy ever
built, or even ever imagined, was opened with pomp and ceremony in the
(fortified) Green Zone.
- When Pentagon officials met with Obama last month, there
again were winks and nods to the press. Obama was a naive and inexperienced
politician from Flyover Land. He could and would be "handled."
- Now Obama has handled them. He has said, no doubt very
politely, that he is the president and the military services are constitutionally
required to carry out his policy, not their own. This naturally has produced
journalistic murmuring of "clashes" between Pentagon and White
House. If there should be clashes, the Pentagon will lose. The military
have become accustomed to getting whatever it wants from presidents and
Congress. That must end, and it is essential that the new president and
his military advisers make this clear, however politely.
- I began with a comment on luck. That referred to the
plunge into the political abyss by the Israeli rightist forces, which are
accustomed to claiming that they "own" the U.S. Congress. Israel's
useless, senseless and self-destructive assault on the people of Gaza,
and upon the U.N.'s headquarters and warehouses of food and medicine, has
proved globally devastating to the reputation and moral credit of Israel.
Even in the United States, there has been a precipitous drop in support
for what Israel has been doing, and for Israeli policy in general.
- In international political circles, there is disbelief
that Israel could imagine that this attack on Hamas, with its civilian
casualties and physical destruction of Gaza, would "strengthen"
the position of the Palestine Authority and of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah
Party. It is a death blow to them. Israel behaves as if it has completely
lost touch with reality.
- Thus Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's arrogant utterance
that he personally caused the United States to reverse its position on
the U.N. Security Council resolution last week demanding a Gaza cease-fire.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had helped organize support for that
resolution and had committed the United States to vote in its favor.
- Olmert told an Israeli audience that, last Friday, upon
hearing of Rice's position, he immediately telephoned George W. Bush. Told
that Bush was delivering an address in Philadelphia, Olmert replied, "I'm
not interested," demanding to speak to Bush. Bush then left his Philadelphia
podium and, according to Olmert, the Israeli prime minister instructed
the American president that "the U.S. cannot possibly vote in favor
of this resolution." Bush then telephoned Rice and ordered her to
abstain from the vote.
- That's Olmert's story, or Israeli megalomania, presented
to the Israelis with pride, but unlikely to be received by Americans with
- Visit William Pfaff's Web site at www.williampfaff.com.