Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jewish Fact Check #12: Obama, Brzezinski and Middle East peace plans (UPDATED and CLARIFICATION)

As a reporter in the Jewish press throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, there were many rumors about Barack Obama that I found myself writing about, and debunking -- but none may have been more persistent than the one about Zbigniew Brzezinski being one of his foreign policy advisers. If I was doing "Jewish Fact Checks" back then, it was the kind of thing I probably would have written about.

The charge had a grain of truth undergirding it -- Brzezinski had endorsed Obama and introduced him at a foreign policy speech Obama gave early in the primary campaign. But the Obama campaign, and even Obama himself, insisted that the former Carter national security adviser was no more than a prominent endorser of the candidate, and no role in the campaign or in formulating Obama's foreign policy views.

Which is why I was so surprised and disappointed when I read yesterday's David Ignatius column in the Washington Post suggesting that the administration was thinking about proposing an American peace plan for the Middle East. Whatever the wisdom of such a plan, I was struck by one of the "advisers" pushing such a policy...Zbigniew Brzezinski! As Ignatius writes:

Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, spoke up first, according to a senior administration official. He urged Obama to launch a peace initiative based on past areas of agreement; he was followed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser for Jimmy Carter, who described some of the strategic parameters of such a plan.

The New York Times even added that Obama had dropped in on the meeting -- which also included a number of other former national security advisers, although not Condi Rice or Stephen Hadley from the Bush II administration (Colin Powell, who was NSA during Bush I but Secretary of State during W.'s first term, was part of the meeting.)

This is really kind of stunning, when one looks back at the efforts the Obama campaign went to in order to make sure Jewish voters knew that they had nothing to do with Brzezinski and his ideas on the Middle East. And there was good reason for that: Brzezinski is not considered much of a friend of Israel by many pro-Israel voters. Last fall, he even suggested that if Israel sent jets to attack Iran's nuclear program, the U.S. should shoot them down.

Obama surrogates, and even Obama himself, insisted that they had virtually nothing to do with Brzezinski, constantly making this case to Jewish and pro-Israel voters for months. Take this comment from an appearance Obama made before Jewish voters in Ohio in February 2008:

There is a spectrum of views in terms of how the US and Israel should be interacting. It has evolved over time. It means that somebody like Brzezinski who, when he was national security advisor would be considered not outside of the mainstream in terms of his perspective on these issues, is now considered by many in the Jewish Community anathema. I know Brzezinski he's not one of my key advisors. I've had lunch with him once, I've exchanged emails with him maybe 3 times. He came to Iowa to introduce for a speech on Iraq. He and I agree that Iraq was an enormous strategic blunder and that input from him has been useful in assessing Iraq, as well as Pakistan, where actually, traditionally, if you will recall he was considered a hawk. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party was very suspicious of Brzezinski precisely because he was so tough on many of these issues. I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally.

Such a statement didn't stop either Hillary Clinton supporters or Republicans from continuing to spread the charge. In fact, it started to annoy me how much this apparently false information was being spread. Back in March 2008, not long after Clinton adviser Ann Lewis had been quoted saying that Brzezinski was an top Obama foreign policy adviser, I asked her at a panel during the UJC Young Leadership conference why she kept repeating that charge. She responded that she had read the information in the media -- after which Obama adviser Dan Kurtzer replied that Brzezinski wasn't even an adviser to the campaign -- something that seemed to genuinely surprise both Lewis and McCain rep Larry Eagleburger.

Then Republicans, most prominently the Republican Jewish Coalition in ads like this one, continued to parrot the charge all through the general election campaign. And the Jewish press tried to set the record straight, as my former colleague Ron Kampeas did here and here, noting that while Brzezinski did represent the campaign once on a call for Democrats Abroad, he played no role in the campaign.

The Brzezinski stuff even continued after the inauguration -- I noted that Florida Republican leader Adam Hasner had incorrectly repeated it in a March 2009 piece at the American Thinker.

Well, I don't know what was happening a year ago, but, now, after Ignatius' piece, it looks like Hasner has been proven right. No, Brzezinski's not an official member of the administration, but administration officials are openly soliciting and, apparently, taking, his advice -- and then touting it proudly in public. If the RJC wants to run those ads ripping Obama for having Brzezinski as an adviser this November or in 2012, they won't hear any commplaints from me -- because they're now supported by the facts. If one wants to argue that Brzezinski isn't as "anti-Israel" as groups like the RJC claim, that's fine -- but there's no argument that he's involved with the administration in a somewhat serious way.

Do I believe that the Obama campaign advisers -- who are now serving in the administration -- telling me and others that Brzezinski had no role in the campaign were lying or trying to mislead me? No, I don't -- I think they were either telling the truth as it was at the time or at least believed what the candidate was telling them. But do I feel like sort of a sucker for actually defending the campaign against those spreading the Brzezinski rumor when the administration turns around a little more than a year later and brags about getting advice from the guy? I sure do.

CLARIFICATION: I've had a couple complaints about this post, so let me clarify what I was saying. I never said that anyone was untruthful about the Brzezinski issue during the campaign. I never said Brzezinski worked for the administration or was a key adviser to the president. I don't even think there's necessarily anything wrong with the national security adviser bringing former NSA's in to get their points of view on occasion, as was apparently happening here. But if you are going to bring them in, and then have the president drop in, ask for advice and have Scowcroft and Brzezinski outline a Middle East peace plan -- and then leak to the newspapers in an apparent trial balloon that you're seriously considering taking their advice -- how is it wrong to conclude that Brzezinski is advising the president on Middle East issues? That's my point.

Meanwhile, a postscript: Kampeas wrote in one of the articles linked above that the Obama campaign insisted that Obama's views were close to Dennis Ross, not someone like Brzezinski. And while it's unclear how influential Ross is in the administration, it's interesting that while anonymous administration officials are talking positively about Brzezinski, at least one anonymous administration official late last month smeared Ross, telling Laura Rozen of Politico that Ross "seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests." Quite a change from the campaign, one might argue -- although to be fair, NSC chief of staff Denis McDonough did respond on the record that "such an assertion is as false as it is offensive."

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Blogger bon said...

So it appears that your Messiah had lied to you? Wow.

4/9/10, 1:43 PM  
Anonymous John said...


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4/13/10, 2:40 PM  
Blogger john said...

oops, I was wrong about Hitler...

well, I guess better late than never (in seeing the light), but I think you need to do further forty lashes on the back or being locked in a room with Al Gore for 3 hours.....

4/16/10, 6:45 AM  
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5/5/10, 4:10 PM  
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