Obama Faces Carter/Clinton Parallels

After six months in office, Barack Obama's presidency reveals striking
parallels not only to Bill Clinton's troubled first term, but to Jimmy
Carter's only term. And, how those dangers are reappearing show that
the Democrats and American progressives have learned little over the
past 30 years.

After six months in office, Barack Obama's presidency reveals striking
parallels not only to Bill Clinton's troubled first term, but to Jimmy
Carter's only term. And, how those dangers are reappearing show that
the Democrats and American progressives have learned little over the
past 30 years.

Many analysts already have noted the eerie similarities between Obama's
troubles and Clinton's political woes 16 years ago. In both cases, the
Democratic presidents started off by rebuffing calls for serious
investigations of abuses committed by their Republican predecessors.

However, instead of showing reciprocity, the Republicans went on the
offensive ginning up "scandals" and challenging the legitimacy of the
two Democrats, for instance, by spreading rumors linking Clinton to
"mysterious deaths" and by winking at slurs about Obama not being born
in the United States.

Republicans also voted solidly against major policy initiatives
advanced by Clinton and Obama. Faced with that unified GOP resistance,
the Democratic majorities started to splinter, especially over the key
issue of health-care reform which became Clinton's first-term
"Waterloo" much as Republicans hope it will be for Obama.

Yet, arguably, the parallels to Jimmy Carter's one-term presidency may
be even more on point. Unlike Clinton whose reckless sexual behavior
fueled the Republican campaigns against him, Carter and Obama are
viewed as men of personal discipline and morality.

Carter and Obama - unlike Clinton - also showed a readiness to pressure
Israel into making important concessions for peace in the Middle East.
That interest in playing the "honest broker" contributed to Carter's
undoing and now might do the same for Obama.

Indeed, it was Carter's tenacity in pushing Israeli Prime Minister
Menachem Begin to agree to the Camp David peace accords in 1978 -
returning the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for what has turned out to be
a lasting peace - that prompted a brazen Israeli intervention into U.S.
presidential politics.

spring 1980, an angry Begin had privately sided with the Republicans,
whose fall campaign was to be led by right-wing candidate Ronald
Reagan. Though hidden from the American people both then and now, this
alliance was well known at the senior levels of both the Israeli and
U.S. governments.

Begin - who
had led a Zionist terrorist group before Israel's independence in 1948
and founded the right-wing Likud Party in 1973 - decided he must take
steps to prevent Carter from pushing for a broader Israel-Arab peace
deal in a potential second term.

Begin's views were described by Israeli intelligence and foreign affairs official David Kimche in his 1991 book, The Last Option.
Kimche wrote that Begin's government believed that Carter was overly
sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and was conspiring to force Israel
to withdraw from the West Bank.

was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in
Washington," Kimche wrote. "They had, moreover, the apparent blessing
of the two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for
this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel
to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967,
including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian

Kimche continued,
"This plan - prepared behind Israel's back and without her knowledge -
must rank as a unique attempt in United States's diplomatic history of
short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation."

Begin particularly dreaded the prospect of a second Carter presidential term.

to the Israeli negotiators, the Egyptians held an ace up their sleeves,
and they were waiting to play it," Kimche wrote. "The card was
President Carter's tacit agreement that after the American presidential
elections in November 1980, when Carter expected to be re-elected for a
second term, he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement
of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to
fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby."

October Surprise

Begin's fear of Carter's reelection - and alarm over Carter's perceived
bungling in Iran where Islamic extremists took power in 1979 - set the
stage for secret collaboration between Begin and the Republican
presidential campaign, according to another Israeli intelligence
official, Ari Ben-Menashe.

In his 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ben-Menashe said the view of Begin and other Likud leaders was one of contempt for Carter.

loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,"
Ben-Menashe wrote. "As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from
Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian
issue hanging on Israel's back."

Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who had immigrated to Israel as a
teen-ager, became part of a secret Israeli program to reestablish its
intelligence network in Iran after it had been decimated by the Islamic

Ben-Menashe wrote
that Begin authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some spare
parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979. In November of
that year, events in Iran took another troubling turn when Islamic
radicals seized the U.S. Embassy and took 52 Americans hostage,
prompting a U.S. trade embargo.

By April 1980, however, Carter had learned about the covert Israeli
shipments, which included 300 tires for Iran's U.S.-supplied jet
fighters. That prompted an angry complaint from Carter to Begin.

had been a rather tense discussion between President Carter and Prime
Minister Begin in the spring of 1980 in which the President made clear
that the Israelis had to stop that, and that we knew that they were
doing it, and that we would not allow it to continue, at least not
allow it to continue privately and without the knowledge of the
American people," Carter's press secretary Jody Powell told me.

"And it stopped," Powell said. At least, it stopped temporarily.

Carter's Judgment

Questioned by congressional investigators a dozen years later, Carter
said he felt that by April 1980, "Israel cast their lot with Reagan,"
according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files
of the so-called October Surprise investigation by a House task force.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a "lingering
concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs."

Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski also recognized
the Israeli hostility. Brzezinski said the Carter White House was well
aware that the Begin government had "an obvious preference for a Reagan

Extensive evidence
exists, too, that Begin's preference for a Reagan victory led Israelis
to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian
leaders behind Carter's back and delay release of the 52 American
hostages until after Reagan defeated Carter in November 1980.

In his book and in sworn testimony about this so-called "October
Surprise" controversy, Ben-Menashe asserted that then-GOP vice
presidential candidate George H.W. Bush personally participated in a
key meeting in October 1980 in Paris. Bush denied that claim at two
press conferences in 1992 but was never questioned under oath in any
formal government inquiry.

One of the reasons I have devoted so much time over the years to this
October Surprise mystery is that Election 1980 represented a key
turning point for the United States and the world. That such a moment
may have turned on a near-treasonous dirty trick represents not only an
outrageous American political scandal, but an Israeli one as well.

Indeed, it appears that a key factor in the successful cover-up of this
scandal was that the full story might not only have hurt the
Republicans but could have alienated Americans from Israel - if it were
known that Likud had intervened to usher out of office a U.S. President
who was deemed insufficiently supportive of the Israeli cause.

When Israel's secret roles in the Iran-Contra scandal (as well as its
prequel, the October Surprise case) were threatened with exposure,
influential neoconservatives in the U.S. news media - especially at The
New Republic - mounted fierce counterattacks against journalists,
investigators and witnesses who tried to pull back the curtain.

Allied with powerhouse Republicans, like Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming
and Henry Hyde of Illinois, the neocons successfully beat back any full
accounting of the two inter-related arms-for-hostages scandals,
Iran-Contra and October Surprise. That success was aided and abetted by
bipartisan-seeking Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana.
[For details, see Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]

Today's Parallel

The parallel between the Carter experience and what is now facing Obama
is that Israel's current Likud government sees Obama as someone, like
Carter, who might approach peace talks evenhandedly rather than with
the pro-Israeli bias that has prevailed over the past three decades.

Reagan's Inauguration - which coincided with the release of the 52
hostages in Iran - also marked the opening for many neoconservatives to
be credentialed into the Executive Branch and from those positions to
advocate hard-line pro-Israeli policies.

Many of those same neocons returned in force under George W. Bush. For
instance, Bush put Elliott Abrams in a key Middle East policy role for
eight years. despite his Iran-Contra conviction (and pardon from
President George H.W. Bush). Abrams served on the National Security
Council and became an architect of the Iraq War.

The broader neocon strategy was to use U.S. military might to compel
"regime change" in Middle Eastern nations considered hostile to Israel.
First on the list was Saddam Hussein's Iraq to be followed by Syria and
Iran, with the ultimate goal of starving close-in enemies, like
Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestine's Hamas, of outside financial support.

Then, the thinking went, Israel could consolidate its control of the
best Palestinian lands seized in 1967 and dictate peace terms to the
Arabs. But the grand neocon plan encountered greater than expected
trouble in Iraq (leading to the deaths of more than 4,300 American
soldiers as well as estimated hundreds of thousands of Iraqis).

Now, after the crushing Republican defeat in 2008, the new neocon game
appears to be to help Israel wait out the Obama presidency. Central to
that strategy will be to harass and wound Obama enough so that he will
lack the political clout to force any significant concessions on
Israel's Likud government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

That appears to be one of the reasons why leading neocons like The
Weekly Standard's William Kristol have surfaced so prominently in the
health care debate. Normally, neocons are relatively moderate on social
issues, reserving their intensity for foreign policy fights.

But Kristol urged the Republicans to "go for the kill" on Obama's embattled health-care plan.

Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let
up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least
responsible," Kristol wrote on July 20. "My advice, for what it's worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill."

If Obama suffers what Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, hopes will be
his "Waterloo" on health care, the President will be weakened when it
comes to other challenges. Rather than take on the formidable Israel
Lobby, Obama might be more inclined to accede to Netanyahu's demands
related to a military strike against Iran.

Even if a weakened Obama won't acquiesce to such an extreme action,
Israel would stand a better chance at stalling peace talks with the
Palestinians for the next 3 1/2 years - until a more agreeable Republican
might take the White House, much as Reagan replaced Carter.

'Hussein' Obama

Already, pro-Likud elements in the Israeli media have been riling up
the population for a prolonged battle with Obama - and some of that
anti-Obama animosity is spilling over into the American press as well.

On Tuesday, the New York Times devoted half its op-ed page to an article
by Israeli journalist Aluf Benn complaining that Obama, as President,
had not yet traveled to Israel to deliver a speech, although he has
made a major address in Cairo to the Islamic world and has spoken
elsewhere, such as Europe, Russia and Africa.

he hasn't bothered to speak directly to Israelis," Benn wrote, without
bothering to note that Obama did visit Israel during the 2008
presidential campaign and, while there, denounced the rocket attacks
that Hamas militants were firing into southern Israel. Nor did Benn
note that Obama hasn't addressed the people of China, India and many
other countries.

Nevertheless, Benn's article offered a window into how the Israeli
media is reacting to Obama. "Israeli rightists have - in columns,
articles and public statements - taken to calling the president by his
middle name, Hussein, as proof of his pro-Arab tendencies," Benn wrote.

Benn even cited criticism of Obama for his visit to the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.

[in Israel] we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle - not
guilt over the Holocaust - brought Jews a homeland," Benn wrote. "Mr.
Obama's speech, which linked Israel's existence to the Jewish tragedy,
infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of
enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad."

Given the hostility that Obama has engendered among right-wing Israelis
and the continued influence of neocons in the U.S. political/media
system, Obama, like Carter, appears surrounded by powerful adversaries,
also including many business interests and social conservatives.

Obama is further disadvantaged by the fact that over the past three
decades since Carter's presidency, the American Right has invested tens
of billions of dollars to construct a vast media machine that
disseminates its coordinated messages instantaneously all across the
United States via print, radio, TV and the Internet.

Meanwhile, over that same period, American liberals and progressives
essentially chose to ignore the need for a media infrastructure. Even
old-time liberal outlets, like The New Republic and The Atlantic, were
taken over by neocon moneymen.

So, the stage is set for a sustained war against Obama and his
presidency, with what is likely to include both the ugliness of the
personal assault on Clinton and the secret maneuvering that proved so
devastating against Carter.

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