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Presidents Day Reads: Obama & Barrel Bombs, Water & Peace, King David’s Intriguing Flaws

by Shmuel Rosner

February 17, 2014 | 4:58 am

David by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1623-24

The US

Walter Russell Mead criticizes Obama's Syria policy following reports about Bashar Assad's devastating 'barrel bombs' –

To some degree we sympathize with those in the mainstream media who turn their eyes from the sight. It’s not just the decomposing corpse of Obama’s Syria/Russia policy that’s stinking up the joint. The comforting assumptions and diplomatic ideas of a whole generation of ambitious Washington foreign policy wonks are being discredited. They thought to build a new Democratic consensus foreign policy on the tomb of George W. Bush’s failures, but “smart diplomacy” turns out to be deeply flawed. The left is moving toward the kind of meltdown moment that many neocons had as the Bush foreign policy went off the rails.

FP's Gordon Adams continues to cover the Pentagon's budget in his interesting column –

But are "Happy Days Here Again" for the Pentagon? Well, if you have been reading this column for the past 18 months, you know that happy days actually never left the Pentagon behind. Defense spending, even after the sequester last year, is at a level unmatched in any year from 1945 to 2006, in constant dollars. Even the 2013 sequester was manageable, without doing long-term damage to military capabilities or, for that matter, military readiness.

Israel

According to Seth Siegel, cooperation on water could have a wonderful on the prospects of peace in the Middle East –

 No one should wish for a water crisis anywhere. But as water problems grow, one hopes that ideology will give way to pragmatism and may open a door to an Arab and Islamic outreach to Israel. A partnership that starts with engineers and extends to farmers could contribute to deal making, even reconciliation, among leaders. Rather than seeing Israel as a problem, Israel’s antagonists would be wise to see it as a solution.

Professor Alex Mintz believes that John Kerry is quite smart and savvy when it comes to Israeli and Palestinian politics –

The difference between Kerry and his predecessor, Senator George Mitchell, who tried to lead a similar move in Obama's first term but failed, is that Kerry realized the critical importance of political obstacles to the agreement right away, and in an impressive political maneuver he managed to get both us and the Palestinians to the negotiating tables, which seemed impossible at the time. How did Kerry do it and what does it say about the chances of the American movement at this time?

The Middle East

Bruce Riedel reports about Saudi Arabia's efforts to discourage Saudi citizens from helping terrorists in Syria (ahead of a pitch it plans to make to President Obama) –

The upcoming visit by President Barack Obama to the kingdom in late March is the second factor behind the new policy. King Abdullah will make a major push for a more vigorous American effort to oust Assad when he hosts Obama. The Saudis have been openly disappointed that Obama has not used force to get rid of Assad or provided more assistance to training and arming the Syrian opposition. By taking steps to curb Saudi help to al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, the king hopes to disarm American concerns that the kingdom is naively helping terrorists gain a stronghold in Syria.

Ali Hashem discusses Iran's 'new Palestine strategy' –

A senior Iranian official told Al-Monitor that Iran is starting a new strategy in Palestine, similar to the one before but different in other ways. “Before, Iran had two or three allies. Iran today wants all the Palestinian factions to be its allies, despite the fact they’re secularists or Islamists. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the Palestinian cause should return to be the main cause people are concentrating on.”

The Jewish World

Bible scholar Jacob Wright muses on the fascinating and confusing depictions of King David in the Bible –

Thus the books of Samuel and Kings contain very different types of David accounts. The agendas of their authors, in many ways, compete with each other. Some affirm that David and his line are chosen by Israel’s God to rule the nation. Others, however, are concerned with the nature of power and statehood per se. In their evaluation, they dissect the figure of David, depicting his ambitious and ruthless abuse of power. Yet even as they are at variance with one another, their combination makes David an exceptionally complex personality. It is this complexity that predestined him to a long and vibrant afterlife.

Historian Rafael Medoff writes some harsh words about the possible relation between FDR's views on the Japanese and his failure to save Jews during the Holocaust –

Roosevelt’s views about the Japanese dovetail with his privately expressed opinions about Jews. In my own recent research in the diaries and correspondence of Roosevelt Cabinet members and others close to FDR, I have found a number of troubling remarks by the president in this vein. For example, he complained about Jews “overcrowding” certain professions in Germany, North Africa, and even in Oregon. He was one of the initiators of a quota on the admission of Jews to Harvard. He boasted to one friend—a U.S. senator—that “we have no Jewish blood in our veins.” He claimed antisemitism in Poland was a reaction to Jews dominating the local economy. And he embraced an adviser’s proposal to “spread the Jews thin” around the world, in order to prevent them from dominating their host countries.

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