Belmont Club


The old time Kremlinolgists often parsed the detailed biographies of key personnel, especially those newly appointed, to gauge the direction in which policy was moving.  For the real news was often not in the banner headlines but in the footnotes.  Now those same skills can come in handy in Washington. Today the White House announced the appointment of Robert Malley to replace Phil Gordon as .”Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region.

Today, National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice announced that Philip Gordon, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region will be stepping down, and will be succeeded by Rob Malley, currently NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf States. Dr. Malley will assume his new position on April 6, 2015.

Who is Robert Malley? Wikipedia gives the public facts. He was born to parents with strong beliefs, made his career in Third World issues, was a classmate of Barack Obama, clerked for the Supreme Court, assisted Sandy Berger and worked in foreign policy for the Clinton administration. He also helped found J Street.  Now he leads the formulation of Middle East policy.

Robert Malley was born in 1963 to Barbara (née Silverstein) Malley, a New Yorker who worked for the United Nations delegation of the Algerian National Liberation Front, and her husband, Simon Malley (1923–2006), an Egyptian-born Jewish journalist who grew up in Egypt and worked as a foreign correspondent for Al Goumhourya, a newspaper linked closely to Gamal Abdul Nasser’s government. … The Washington Post, on August 7, 1980, reported the elder Malley was a founder of the Egyptian Communist Party and at the time was under investigation by French authorities for pro-Soviet activities. …

Robert Malley attended Yale University, and was a 1984 Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy. There he wrote his doctoral thesis about Third-worldism and its decline. Malley continued writing about foreign policy, including extended commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School, where he met his future wife, Caroline Brown. Another fellow law school student was Barack Obama. …

According to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Malley provided informal advice to the campaign in the past without having any formal role in the campaign. On May 9, 2008, the campaign severed ties with Malley when the British Times reported that Malley had been in discussions with the militant Palestinian group Hamas, listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. In response, Malley told The Times he had been in regular contact with Hamas officials as part of his work with the International Crisis Group. …

The New York Times reported on 18 February 2014 that Malley was joining the Obama administration to consult on Persian Gulf policy as senior director of the National Security Council.

Naturally he is considered somewhat suspect by conservative members of the Jewish community. Some sense of his reputation can be gleaned from this screaming headline from Front Page Magazine: “Obama Appoints Man He Fired for Hamas Contacts as Middle East Coordinator”. David Frum calls the appointment “jaw-dropping”.

But the thing to remember is that none of this says anything significant about Robert Malley. It says a great deal however, about Barack Obama. Robert Malley as a private person is entitled to whatever views he chooses to hold. The public policy question is whether Barack Obama should cause those views to ultimately influence the official policy of the United States of America.

If Benjamin Netanyahu were wondering in suspense whether punishment for his lese majeste was forthcoming, he need wait no longer. The answering symphony has opened with a roll of deep drums. Now comes the blaring of the brass and dark crescendo of the horns. If anyone needs to ask what comes next, it’s been reported that the Fat Lady is offstage starting to warm up her tonsils.

Barack Obama is a man on a mission. It’s No More Mr. Nice Guy. The Justice Department announced that it would bring corruption charges against Democratic senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a man who while perhaps as richly deserving of the attentions of the law as anyone in Washington is also an outspoken opponent of the president’s Iran policy. “Menendez has been one of the top Democratic critics in Congress of the Obama administration’s negotiations and forthcoming deal with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Democrat said the White House’s talking points on the Iran deal were “straight out of Tehran.”

He’s ripping down the forest to get at the goal. The president’s thrusting attack comes at a time when doubts are growing about his ability to confront whoever you want to call the opponents. Politico reports that the president’s requests for a grant of military authority are running into trouble with both parties on the Hill. The objections to the authorization are of two kinds. Neither party can agree on what strategy it should authorize, nor is there any apparent confidence in the Leader of the Free World or willingness to give him a free hand.

Key Democrats are hardening their opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposal for attacking Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, raising fresh doubts the White House can win congressional approval of the plan as concerns grow over its handling of crises around the globe.

In interviews this week, not a single Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed support for the president’s war plan as written; most demanded changes to limit the commander in chief’s authority and more explicitly prohibit sending troops into the conflict.

That opposition puts the White House and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, in a quandary — stuck between Republican defense hawks who are pushing for a more robust U.S. role against the terrorist group known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and liberals who fear a repeat of the Iraq war. …

“He is asking us to do something that takes us nowhere,” Corker said of Obama. “Because from what I can tell, he cannot get one single Democratic vote from what he’s sent over. And he certainly wouldn’t get Democratic votes for something Republicans might be slightly more comfortable with. … It’s quite a dilemma.”

Whatever one’s views of the president might be, America is like a giant lying paralyzed with a stroke. It can’t move its mighty limbs. It can’t speak to even name its foe. It can’t even decide what to do. It is wide open to its foes. And so it may remain not just until 2016, but for as long as the confusion and befuddlement lasts.

An  administration that came to office promising to unite the world under its glorious banner, bring all Americans together, abolish nuclear weapons and roll back the dark clouds of Global Warming contemplates a scene in ruins. Who is Robert Malley? Who is Barack Obama? What is the foreign policy of the United States?

Confused? Ask Marie Harf for enlightenment.

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