Brent Scowcroft and Obama's Middle East Policy

The foreign policy views of President-elect Barack Obama  and the direction he may take once in office has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny at American Thinker, particularly regarding the most volatile region on the planet: the Middle East. We have been skeptical that he will follow the traditionally supportive approach towards our beleaguered ally, Israel -- threatened by its neighbors and facing the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

One step has been reassuring: the potential appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Senator Clinton is well-versed in the history of the region, has dealt personally with the key players, and has been a strong supporter of the American-Israel relationship. Other steps, such as the apparent choice of James Jones as national security adviser, are more problematic.

There are various centers of power in any Administration: turf wars are commonplace. If Barack Obama chooses to empower the National Security Adviser and give him more access and influence than the Secretary of State (the model followed by Richard Nixon, when national security adviser Henry Kissinger eclipsed the hapless Secretary of State William Rogers) then the balance might tilt away from support of Israel.

The situation is in flux now.

However, clarity seems to be emerging from the fog at Foggy Bottom. Recent news reports indicate that Barack Obama has been receiving advice from Brent Scowcroft. Scowcroft is a former National Security Adviser who has a long history of coolness towards Israel. This past week he joined forces with another former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who shares his views towards Israel to write an op-ed for the Washington Post, "Middle East Priorities" for January 21. The column advised Obama to make the Middle East peace process a priority, blamed our problems in the region on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (implicitly blaming our support for Israel), and laid down the parameters that should guide the administration its conflict with the Palestinians and the Israelis:

The major elements of an agreement are well known. A key element in any new initiative would be for the U.S. president to declare publicly what, in the view of this country, the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace ought to be. These should contain four principal elements: 1967 borders, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications; compensation in lieu of the right of return for Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem as real home to two capitals; and a nonmilitarized Palestinian state.

Something more might be needed to deal with Israeli security concerns about turning over territory to a Palestinian government incapable of securing Israel against terrorist activity. That could be dealt with by deploying an international peacekeeping force, such as one from NATO, which could not only replace Israeli security but train Palestinian troops to become effective.

The suggested approach is highly problematic.

Given the sudden prominence of Brent Scowcroft, we must wonder how influential will he be in the Obama Administration? Some people might be surprised that Barack Obama would reach out to a figure so identified with the Republican Party. However, such surprise might be mitigated, when one looks at the common characteristic of many Republican leaders who have flocked to Barack Obama: they seem to share a desire to weaken the American-Israel alliance

How influential will Mr. Scowcroft be in an Obama Administration?

According to the Wall Street Journal, very influential.
Many of the Republicans emerging as potential members of the Obama administration have professional and ideological ties to Brent Scowcroft, a former national-security adviser turned public critic of the Bush White House.

Mr. Scowcroft spoke by phone with President-elect Barack Obama last week, the latest in a months-long series of conversations between the two men about defense and foreign-policy issues, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The relationship between the president-elect and the Republican heavyweight suggests that Mr. Scowcroft's views, which place a premium on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, might hold sway in the Obama White House.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was deputy national-security adviser under Mr. Scowcroft in the George H.W. Bush administration, is almost certain to be retained by Mr. Obama, according to aides to the president-elect. Richard Haass, a Scowcroft protégé and former State Department official, could be tapped for a senior National Security Council, State Department or intelligence position. Mr. Haass currently runs the Council on Foreign Relations.

Other prominent Republicans with close ties to Mr. Obama include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed the Democrat in the final days of the campaign, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"I think most of my close associates have a generally similar view," Mr. Scowcroft said in an interview. "What's the old story about birds of a feather?"

The late, lamented New York Sun expressed concern about Senator Lugar when it came to relations with Israel; the Council of Foreign Relations has not been known to be a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment.  before, during and probably after Richard Haass.

This may prompt some qualms for supporters of the American-Israel relationship. America and Israel had a tense relationship with one another when Scowcroft served as a national security adviser under President George H.W. Bush.

The possibility that Brent Scowcroft will become the eminence grise of the Obama Administration may chill some people this winter.

Brent Scowcroft, 83 years old and the head of the Scowcroft Group, is unlikely to play a visible role in the Obama Administration. However, by placing his allies in key places of power, he will be well-positioned to exert influence behind the scenes when it comes to the future foreign policy direction of the Administration. Andrew McCarthy pointed out the risk of this sort of maneuvering: often the levers of power are pulled by the hundreds of lower level staffers who fill positions in the national security and foreign policy apparatus. They are the ones who can craft and implement (or frustrate) policies.

Will Scowcroft be the headhunter for those positions, as well?  Or will the ideological allies he has helped place in positions of power do the work for him?

One additional factor should be considered: The Scowcroft Group. This is a Washington, D.C. international business advisory firm with extensive interests in the Middle East. Will Scowcroft peddle his influence in an Obama Administration to further his financial interests in the region? He seems to believe that his op-eds can be used as sales tools, since he posts them on the firm's website: (for example, Getting The Middle East Back on Our Side wherein he writes glowingly of the Iraq Study Group final report -- one that seemed to be biased against Israel and which was drafted under the aegis of Scowcroft's long-time ally, former Secretary of State James Baker). Scowcroft advocates increased engagement with Iran. American businesses have been constrained in doing business with Iran. Will Scowcroft and his acolytes promote ties with Iran to garner lucrative business relationships?

Will he offer to talk or meet with key foreign policy players to please Middle East leaders? Will contracts depend on friendlier relations that Brent Scowcroft believes will follow only if Israel is compelled to follow his and Zbigniew Brzezinski's plans? After all, Middle Eastern potentates have always had a penchant for trading and deal-making. But they are not alone.

The best practitioners are not in the Arab bazaars but in the corridors of power in Washington. The world's largest souk is not in the Middle East; it is in our nation's capital.

And Brent Scowcroft knows well how to prosper in this market.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.
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