Tough Words From This Cheney on U.S. Mideast Policy

By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, June 9, 2008

Looks as though another former Bush administration official is off the reservation. But don't expect the kind of fierce counterattack the White House and its friends waged recently against former press secretary Scott McClellan after the release of his tell-all book.

On a panel at last week's American Israel Political Affairs Committee convention, former State Department official Elizabeth Cheney described the Annapolis peace process as "misguided," said the United States had been "fundamentally mistaken" to push for elections in Gaza and suggested that the Bush administration has not been tough enough with Syria.

"In my view, this administration has gotten it right when we have been bold, when we have been decisive, when we have been focused, when we have used our military force when necessary," Cheney said at the conference, according to a recording posted on the AIPAC Web site. "Where we have been less effective and less successful is when we have been unfortunately not so bold, when we have not held [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad to account for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, for the killing of American soldiers inside Iraq, for his support to Hezbollah."

Cheney is, of course, a private citizen who until early 2006 worked as a principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Near East Bureau before leaving to have her fifth child. She is also close to her father, Vice President Cheney -- so much so that when she was at State, people assumed her views reflected his perspective.

Whether they do now is unknown. But judging from her remarks at AIPAC, Liz is one Cheney unhappy with key elements of U.S. Mideast policy, from Lebanon and the peace process to how the White House dealt with elections in the Palestinian territories. She was also critical of Israel's performance in the 2006 war in Lebanon, citing "Israel's inability, unwillingness to do what was necessary . . . to fundamentally deal a blow to Hezbollah."

"I think that getting back to a situation where our enemies in the region understand that America will stand up for its friends, that America will stand up for its principles and that we have red lines is critically important," Cheney told the friendly audience at AIPAC. "When those red lines aren't there, when our enemies like Iran and Syria begin to believe that they can act with impunity, you see situations like you have got in Lebanon today -- where Hezbollah now has a veto over that government, where Hezbollah will be able, I fear, to significantly continue its efforts to rearm in southern Lebanon, continue to threaten Israel and allow Iran a real chokehold on the region."

Cheney offered critiques in a number of key areas. One was the decision, which went all the way up to President Bush, to push Israel to allow elections in the Palestinian territories, which ultimately led to Hamas taking power in Gaza.

"The United States was fundamentally mistaken to push for those Palestinian elections in Gaza," Cheney said, drawing applause. "I think that at the time there wasn't anybody that I spoke to in the Palestinian government . . . or the Israeli government who thought those elections were a good idea."

At another point, Cheney appeared to suggest that it was a mistake for the United States to invite Syria to participate in last November's Annapolis conference: "It makes it much easier for the Europeans, for example, to say, 'Well, look, if you're not isolating Syria, if you are inviting the Syrians to Annapolis for a peace conference, why should we isolate the Syrians?' "

Cheney also made clear her view that the recent efforts by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are taking resources away from dealing with Iran. She described a "misguided attempt right now to come to an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, when I don't believe the Palestinians are ready for such an agreement."

As for Iran, Cheney seemed pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. Over the years, she said, there has been "no shortage of efforts to talk to them" -- but to no avail: "We don't have the luxury to have the debate we have been having about should we talk, should we not talk. The time for diplomacy here is rapidly coming to an end."

Asked to comment, a spokeswoman said the vice president "supports the president's policies on the Middle East."

Taking Allies to Task

President Bush is to leave today for an eight-day trip to Europe, the start of a round of summer travel that will take him from London, Berlin and Paris and later to Beijing for the Olympics and to Hokkaido, Japan, for next month's meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries.

With indications that U.S. allies could beat up on the administration for not doing enough to tackle global warming, Bush appears to be angling to turn the tables by highlighting allied failure to meet targets for providing development aid to Africa, a big focus for the White House in recent years.

Bush previewed his plans in a speech Thursday at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "The last G-8, our partners stood up and made strong commitments to help Africa deal with malaria and HIV/AIDS," Bush said. "They have yet to make good on their commitments. And I will remind them it's one thing to make a promise, it's another thing to write the check, and the American government expects our partners to live up to their obligations."

White House officials say the administration is on track to double the amount of aid to Africa by 2010, to $8.7 billion annually. They are declining to identify the countries that they consider laggards, but a report last year by the One Campaign, which is focused on tackling world poverty, said the G-8 is "badly off track" in meeting its 2005 commitment to double aid to Africa in five years.

A new report is due out in two weeks, and a One Campaign spokesman said the White House is correct in saying that the United States has done a better job meeting its targets -- though she also said the targets are less ambitious than those of other countries. A White House spokesman says it is counterproductive to set unrealistic targets.

'Embarrassed' About Bush

The executive producer of "American Idol" says the show was "embarrassed" to have President Bush appear on "Idol Gives Back," aimed at raising money for anti-poverty programs in the United States and Africa. "The president is always saying 'I want to be on' " the "Gives Back" episode, Nigel Lythgoe told OK magazine.

"We didn't ask the president this year to say anything because we are all a bit embarrassed about him, and the office insisted that, because the [primary] candidates were on it, the president would like to come on and say 'thank you,' " he said.

White House press secretary Dana Perino shrugged off the jibe, noting that "Malaria No More," affiliated with the show, is one partner of Bush's initiative to combat malaria in Africa. "President Bush and Mrs. Bush very much appreciate opportunities to raise awareness and funds for the cause of saving children's lives in Africa," she said.

Moving On

Deputy national security adviser James F. Jeffrey is getting his reward for long hours of service at the White House: President Bush nominated him last week to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Jeffrey has been the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad and the ambassador to Albania, among a long list of assignments. No word as to when he will be heading out, but Senate confirmation is not expected to be a problem since he is a career official.

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