Thoughts on George Mitchell Resignation


george mitchell netanyahu.jpg
I have thought for some time now that the Obama administration’s experiment with George Mitchell had failed.
Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell and his team made two key errors: they believed that the near term pluses of an ultimate deal between Palestinians and Israelis would outweigh the political benefits of intransigence by both respective governments — and they felt that helping Palestinian moderates deliver resources to their people would help them achieve a legitimacy competitive against Hamas. They were wrong on both counts.
Mitchell’s “too much too late” strategy of trying to prop up Mahmoud Abbas and to make him — and moderates on general — look like they were political winners and could deliver results to their people badly backfired. Mitchell engineered with both Abbas and Palestine Prime Minister Salam Fayyad the most pro-American, pro-Israel deal making government imaginable — and yet Israel was able to shrug them off. Hamas sat on the sidelines of Mitchell’s efforts, waiting for a knock on the door that never came, and watched Israel and Palestine peacemaking efforts collapse — while Hamas’ own legitimacy rose in the eyes of frustrated Palestinians.
One senior Defense official once said to me that Mitchell always talked in terms of forty year cycles — and that this official wanted to know if we were still in year 1 of that cycle, or year 39. He said that when Mitchell plodded slowly along describing his strategy, this official wanted to “punch a pencil” through his own head.
Mitchell failed to inspire the Palestinians and Israelis to embrace their long term interests over short term political itches — and he lost the faith and support of his colleagues inside the administration.
To some degree this was inevitable. Dennis Ross became the person in the administration that Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preferred to communicate with, circumventing entirely George Mitchell and his team. When Obama failed to insist that only Mitchell be the lead and allowed a bifurcated operation, Netanyahu has been able to play one side off the other.
Mitchell has had almost no contact with Netanyahu over the speech that the Israeli Prime Minister will soon be giving in Washington — and the next big Obama speech on political change in the Middle East/North Africa region will have none of Mitchell’s DNA in it.
It’s regrettable that Mitchell failed as he is an outstanding public servant who has served the country well in the past. I had high hopes for him when he came in — and hoped he would soon understand that the Israel-Palestine divide was not like the Northern Ireland peace process because there was an urgency and global severity to the Israel-Palestine fault line that had a consequential weight geostrategically that Northern Ireland never did.
I admire Mitchell, but the administration — if it is going to continue to give any focus to the Israel-Palestine issue — needs to cease half-way efforts and needs to stop allowing Netanyahu to set the temperature and terms in the region.
Obama needs to lay out his own expectations of a political outcome and have the parties react to that — not naively wait for them to come to terms with each other. They never will and their political institutions cannot bear the pressure of such an agreement. Stakeholders in the region must adopt the Obama parameters and become the seducers and enforcers of an ultimate deal.
That’s what needs to happen. Many in the administration know it — but the politicos in the Obama White House have been the most recalcitrant. It’s a tough knot for them politically.
But until there is a deeper strategy, with broad stakeholder support in the region, and something that can withstand inevitable Congressional criticism — the Israel-Palestine ulcer will continue to worsen and will eventually animate the frustrations of a new set of leaders throughout the Middle East.
— Steve Clemons

Continue reading:


23 comments on “Thoughts on George Mitchell Resignation

  1. questions says:

    DeLong explains everything in a section on ressentiment in a paper from Oct. 2010:
    Ressentiment of the racial kind as well as of the regular kind feeds a certain kind of nose cutting/face spiting behavior that the policy elites have to take into account.
    Ressentiment underlies our need to assure in order to have proper social coordination.
    Rawls argues we should try for cooperation, but cooperation only works when there’s no ressentiment to gum up the works.
    Fact is, if we suffer, we do indeed want others to suffer. If we suffer, we do want company. If we suffer, we do not wish others to do better, even if it might help us.
    If an underwater mortgagee is saved, it saves my home value and so I do better.
    If public workers keep their pensions and do well all in all, better workers are hired and I do better. It’s good for me that others do well.
    If people cultivate their myriad talents (for, say, writing rap lyrics, or for writing novels, or for dance or music or surgery or engineering) I do better.
    But if I have to give up something now to do better in some abstract future, and if the person who benefits is, say, a current rap star, well, I’m not likely to tolerate that, and I communicate my intolerance via my TV show on Fox (see Jon Stewart on O’Reilly over the Common brouhaha (apparently Common, OMG, went, OMG, all the way to, OMG, Cuba, OMG, to visit, OMG with Tupak Shakur’s aunt, Assata,OMG, who was charged with the, OMG of killing a cop, OMG…..and Common wrote, OMG, a song, OMG….)
    So what happens if someone “like” Common benefits from anything in the system?
    It would all seem to undermine yet another leg on the many-legged chair of rationality. The very things that could help me most live the good life I want to live should be the things I pursue. But somehow, I don’t pursue them. Truly truly odd. I get more out of the suffering I’m caused in my spiting you than joy would I receive from letting you have some crumbs while I live well.
    And if we don’t actually think this way, we still seem quite frequently to vote this way. For this way is the way of the Republican Party, and it’s forced the hands of the dems.
    But that’s only one strand of why we don’t do more economically. There are things like policy entrepreneurs, false metaphors, difficult-to-parse issues, probably a bunch of true believers, possibly some sense that helping individuals or getting more active in the economy will be hard to undo when it’s time to undo it. And a whole lot more.
    Overdetermined policy will happen. And less, rather than more, involvement in the economy seems to be the thing.
    It’s a great paper. Worth the read. And DeLong has up a bunch of other nice bits and pieces.
    Gingrich is hilarious. Go to TPM and count the ways.
    Paul Ryan is not running for statewide office in WI. He will move up in the House til the Dems take over. I am hopeful that Ryan’s career trajectory ends somewhere around the end of 2012 when the Dems retake the House. (I am optimistic.)
    Everything Jonathan Bernstein says is true. And now there’s Jared Bernstein’s blog to add to the list. (No relation, I assume.)


  2. questions says:

    This is some good news, too!


  3. Kathleen says:

    Dennis Ross has to go.
    Anyone see and hear Richard Haass gloating on This Week yesterday. He and Kagan were almost giddy that there are not even any pretend I/P negotiations. The new mantra is now Arab nations can quit pretending that the oppression of Palestinians and the illegal occupation really means something to them.


  4. questions says:

    Good news!


  5. Paul Norheim says:

    Sorry to interrupt your solitary off topic routine, Questions.
    My gardener?
    I have so many gardeners that I have no idea whom I should ask!
    Oh, the manager of course, Mr… what was his name… Mr. Calbot!
    But anyhow: “The problem is your own desire, not the amount of money you have.”
    Thank you so much for your sincere advise, Questions. Words of wisdom.
    After asking Rolls Royce to cancel the order I – due to my somewhat troublesome and almost
    incurable desire – submitted early this morning through my trusted secretary, I’ll read the
    buckets and holes part of Plato’s Georgias.
    You made my day!


  6. questions says:

    From DeLong:
    See, we really do need to deal with economic feelings and perceptions as compared to reality.
    This piece notes a piece in which it is defended that life on 250K per year is nasty brutish and short, or whatever.
    And yet, most people make a whole lot less, and make use of public schools and so their own scut work instead of hiring it all out. Most people have to control their desires and have only fantasies of ease rather than actual ease.
    We need a scale to help us see this.
    250k a year is a LOT of money. If shepherded well, you have enough for a lot of ease and some investments.
    If you never want to have to shepherd another cent as long as you live, well, you’ll never have enough.
    Read the Gorgias, the part about desire, buckets and holes. The problem is your own desire, not the amount of money you have.
    250k is a lot of money. Ask your gardener!


  7. questions says:

    This one is really nice, as well, h/t Thoma:
    It discusses emulation, economic panics, rhetoric and emulation, Obama’s refusal to dive in rhetorically, and a paper on Kindleberger as a Word doc. Will read later.
    Emulation is clearly part of network and contagion and cascade theory, and the whole mania/panic/crash model of our economic and social world.
    Some interesting thoughts to do something with: do our brains work this way through bipolarisms? Mania and crash ARE the hallmarks of bipolar life. Does our social life merely recapitulate our internal brain life?
    How much of a role do mirror neurons play, and is there some similar force that doesn’t require face-to-face contact so that, say, radio broadcasts can be figured in? There was a recent piece somewhere on a study that showed that if you botoxed someone’s face, that someone had a harder time reading emotions on other people’s faces. Apparently we enact on our faces what we see in others’ faces, and that re-enactment may well be what triggers empathy. When muscles are paralyzed from botox, we cannot move them into emulative positions. Further, if you paste the faces of subjects so they have to work harder at moving their muscles, they get a little better at reading other people. Hard work moving your face makes you better at it.
    Are economic insanity and contagion kind of like paste on our faces?
    And in keeping with economic thoughts, is there anything a little like the meteorological misery and wind chill indices? Not objective conditions so much as metaphorical, “what it feels like” conditions.
    Maybe an index that says, “here’s your income, but this is what it FEELS like to you” might be communicative of all sorts of things.
    Easy credit makes you FEEL richer, but you aren’t really. Crashes make you FEEL poorer, but you aren’t really. Other people’s misery or joy makes you think one thing rather than another. Cheap imports make you feel richer than you are, and so you end up spending more on junk than you might otherwise.
    If we had formal ways of categorizing these, then maybe we’d have a better time working through some of our contagions and recognizing some of our bubbles.
    It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity –which is why no one air conditions in Phoenix???


  8. questions says:

    Hope this is far enough down thread….
    Finals week, econ 401, and exam custom-written for Brad DeLong:
    This is a really good piece, with a lot of good exam questions worth asking and answering. Economics epistemology.
    h/t Thoma,
    Some graphs regarding manufacturing.


  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Who knows, but perhaps this is one reason why Steve has been less fond of your profanities recently?”
    I certainly hope that Obama has read my expressed disappointment in him, in the language that I am sure the syncopantic minions he surrounds himself with are unable to use.
    Or, like in the case of Ben Nelson, do you think Steve assumes that when these criminal elitists endeavor to walk amongst the “regular folk”, they needn’t include subjecting themselves to the indignity of the forceful criticisms that they have so completely earned?
    By the way, Paul, a number of my comments that were removed had no profanities. The same can be said for a number of my posts that did not make it through the moderation “process”.
    I suffer no second thoughts about what weight a White House admonition might carry here. The stairway to the palace has many doors, and the keys are not given away free. You don’t purchase access with an expenditure of criticism. Who is better placed than Steve to realize this simple truth?


  10. Paul Norheim says:

    “At night in the family residence, an adviser said, Mr. Obama
    often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional
    news sites to get a local flavor for events.” (NYT)
    Who knows, but perhaps this is one reason why Steve has
    been less fond of your profanities recently? After all, he is
    among the thinktankers invited to the WH to provide advises
    during the revolutions in the Middle East. Others in the
    administration may also have payed more attention to TWN
    for the same reason during the last months.


  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “As for yourself, POA, you have changed your demeanor radically in the past few months – you’ve stopped attacking fellow commenters. And you argue for your cases”
    And Steve recieved an apparently unprecedented amount of “complaints” about my comments. That is why I find the whole thing, the whole rationale, suspect.
    This started with an openly expressed complaint by a poster identifying himself as “a”, on the Ben Nelson thread. Immediately thereafter, a number of my comments were removed, and the first round of “moderated” comment sessions was instituted.
    I have often wondered as to “a”‘s affiliations, and even questioned them in an attempted post that was never allowed to appear. I have no doubt his posted complaint was the mere tip of the iceberg, and that “a” was engaged in an exchange with Steve that we were not privy to. Hence my reluctance to advocate for the use of “complaint” to silence a poster. The old tenet of being able to face one’s accuser has bearing here, and I am loath to imagine that all we need do is wage a complaint campaign, via email, if we wish to muzzle anyone’s opinions or postings, mo matter how irritating, incendiary, or slanderous we find them.
    Isn’t it enough for us to simply continue to comment, ignore the obvious antagonisms designed to derail the debate, and leave the “policing” to those that administer the blog? I have no desire to run sniveling to Steve every time some jackass insults my sensitivities, expresses an opinion I find loathsome, or directs an insult in my direction. Nor do I wish to see threads taking off in some sort of collective group whine about the behaviour of one poster or the other. I don’t appreciate being the target of such sniveling complaint, so why should I, in turn, engage in this kind of mewling and snitchy behaviour?
    No thanks. I’ll leave the “police work” on this blog to those with ratlike or fascist leanings. Short that, I’ll just assume that those that administer this blog had no intention of pinning a badge on my chest, and they are fully capable of swinging their batons in whatever manner they see fit.
    The events of the last few weeks have convinced me that their and my perception of reasonable moderation differ greatly, so who am I too attempt to enforce criterias that seem to fluctuate and bend with the “tone” of the missives that land in Steve’s inbox?
    Trust me, I’ve got plenty of “complaints” to air, and the behaviour of a troll or two posting at TWN is pretty low on my list of gripes. If I email Steve, ya think he’ll start mentioning Emily Henochowitz, B’iln, Daiichi, or what a bunch of duplicitous scheming criminals and whores we have in Congress??? I doubt it. But if I DO see fit to email Steve with a current complaint, I doubt Pearlman will be the target of my hunt and peck.
    Frankly, theres far more worth worrying about than Pearlman’s infrequent little dingleberry musings. I’m sure, at least on this last point I’ve offered, that Steve would agree wholeheartedly.


  12. Paul Norheim says:

    Some more or less regular commenters here do never offer
    opinions, nor do they ever deliver on topic arguments for their
    views, or against the views of others. Their sole contribution
    is ad hominem insults.
    I’m just trying to approach this in a practical way. I see no
    harm in suggesting to block such posters.
    As for yourself, POA, you have changed your demeanor
    radically in the past few months – you’ve stopped attacking
    fellow commenters. And you argue for your cases.
    I expect Steve to distinguish between your current
    constructive conduct and people who only produce insulting
    one liners.
    I would hope for Steve to chime in here. Perhaps he prefers
    that we email him privately when we see someone crossing
    the red line? I shouted publicly, so that people could see who
    was complaining and why.


  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “And you are against attempts to avoid this by reporting their provocations to Steve?”
    If Steve is reading the comment section enough to note your complaint, isn’t it reasonable to assume he has already read the comment you’re complaining about?
    So, what exactly is it that you are “reporting”?
    And please consider the relatively mundane nature of these two latest “transgressions” of Pearlman’s that you are complaining about. You consider these two comments sufficiently antagonistic or slanderous to warrant actual banishment??? Using that criteria, my comment that Netanyahu is “despicable” and “loathsome” must surely warrant not only banishment, but a public whipping in Times Square as well.
    Be careful what you wish for. As Questions is so fond of reminding us, efforts might have unintended consequences. In this instance, I’d say he might be right.


  14. Paul Norheim says:

    “They set this trap here because it usually catches someone.”
    And you are against attempts to avoid this by reporting their
    provocations to Steve?
    That sounds like a true Catch 22.


  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Steve makes the point of mentioning the ascending popularity of Hamas, as Palestinians become more and more “frustrated” with the duplicituous machinations of the self-serving actors such as Abbas. It is by no accident that Hamas came into power in Gaza, and is carving itself a niche in the hearts of once moderate Palestinians.
    Yet Clinton elevates Hamas even further by stating that we will not recognize or negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. Huh??? Well, how have the Palestinians benefitted by our recogniion of the PA, and our “negotiations” with Abbas? If we are going to threaten the Palestinians, don’t we loigically have to have something to threaten them with? Basically Clinton is telling Hamas and the Palestinians that “if you don’t behave in the manner we demand from you, we will continue to screw you over like we have always screwed you over”.
    Gee, I bet the Palestinians are really gonna regret our lack of engagement, eh? I mean geez, we’ve done so much for them!!!
    The despicable and unconvincing skits featuring our politicians, acting as if they are unbiased mediators, extending one insincere hand to the Palestians, while the other murderous hand arms and subsidizes the Israelis, is a study in hypocricy and duplicity.
    Its ironic seeing the debate derailed and diverted by the simple act of putting antagonistic one line comments up, that address not a single point raised by Clemons in either of his current essays involving the Pal/Isr issue. Whether you agree with Clemons or not, or are skeptical of his ability to opine openly and honestly about this issue, (as I am skeptical), surely it should take more than one or two terse and incendiary comments to divert the direction of the comments into opposing attacks on the respective messengers.
    What, theres nothing to debate here? Instead, we should complain about the insinuation of bias that Pearlman offers??? The irony is that there is no other issue that is so carefully framed with bias, albiet not the bias that Pearlman so prolifically insinuates with his comments. Steve Clemons, who has seemingly chosen to support the Israeli narrative, if only by his failure to include recent important events and policies in his blog contributions, can hardly be presented as anti-Israel, anti-semitic, or anti-zionist. Steve meanders ever closer to the status quo narrative, if only through omission, than many of us would have believed possible as recently as a year ago. Yet even Steve’s occassional tepid condemnations of Israeli policies and actions becomes the target of the insinuation of pro-palestinian bias. Such insinuations are not debate, they are tactics, designed to elicit a certain kind of response, and to take the debate away from its original context. They set this trap here because it usually catches someone.


  16. Paul Norheim says:

    “…hoping to incite comments will push Steve over the edge…shutting down the comments.”
    We’re certainly aware of that, and not involved in a flame war. Point is, if Steve can block certain regular
    commenters known for such provocations, this risk may be somewhat reduced (although new
    provocateurs will always pop up…).


  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Palestinians made your peace efforts difficult, Netanyahu tells Mitchell”
    “PM thanks resigning U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace for his work, saying he regrets the Palestinians’ refusal to attend peace talks”
    Truly a loathsome despicable human being, this Netanyahu person, isn’t he? How embarrassing for our country that such a person can turn our leadership into mere vassals.
    What always amazes me about these ruminations of Steve’s is his “Obama should…(this)” and “Obama should….(that)” while entirely ignoring the futility and silliness of recommending Obama take actions that are unsupportable in Washington DC. It doesn’t matter WHAT Obama proposes, or would like to do, as it is obvious that DC currently works in Israel’s favor, no matter the moral or legal implications, and in spite of our best interests. The REAL impediment to progress that people like Mitchell encounter isn’t in the Middle East, it is in Washington DC. And to frame the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to make progress on the actions, (or lack of actions), of the POTUS is ridiculous. Obama is powerless to change the status quo as long as his compatriots in DC grovel and feed at the AIPAC trough.
    Of course Mitchell was doomed to fail. Now the beltway “experts” such as Steve will advance a whole plethora of reasonings, essays, and opinions, all carefully composed to avoid bringing up the uncomfortable truths that are the TRUE root of the problem.
    Theres some sort of magic solution out there that will conquer the influence of the Israeli lobby machine and the false narrative that ALWAYS exonerates the Israelis from any culpability or fault in maintaining the stalemate
    and the status quo? Carefully skirting any commentary, opinions, or suggestions that may “offend” the Israeli taskmasters and scriptwriters, the charade of constructive analysis must continue if the think tanks want to be seen to be “thinking”.
    “Truth” will be the straw that breaks through the status quo, Steve. And the sooner people like you start telling the world the truth, ALL THE TRUTH, the sooner a REAL “peace process” can begin.
    Starting by paying as much attention to Israeli crimes and attrocities as “you” do to Palestinian crimes and attrocities would go far in changing the narrative. And the narrative MUST be changed if the dynamics are to be changed. There is NO ISSUE more influenced by carefully nurtured propaganda, faleshoods, and misconception than this issue. Of all the topics I discuss with family, co-workers, associates and friends, this one issue is where I find the most blind ignorance. ALWAYS favoring the Israeli narrative.
    Twice now, in as many months, you have made it a point to underscore vicious alleged Palestinian crimes, offering the Israeli version even before any real evidence was available to support the narrative. When counter accounts of events arose, you ignored them. Even now, the “truth” behind these crimes, and who the perpetrators were, is elusive. Yet in the minds and memories of countless Americans, the “truth” has already been decided, carefully fabricated as such by the formidable Israeli propaganda machine, whose “message”, at times, you seen all to eager to advance.
    Yet as time wears on, there are FAR MORE crimes and attrocities being committed than those that can be attributed to the Palestinians. In fact, Isreali IDF troops, and the settlers, commit horrendous acts almost DAILY, sometimes in collusion, that more than equal the horrific acts you saw fit to underscore here on your blog, seeming to convict Palestinians prior to the release of facts that would justify such convictions.
    Emily Henochowitcz. No mention.
    Tristan Anderson. No mention.
    The use of White Phosphorous on non-combatants. No mention.
    Flooding Palestinan farmland with raw sewage. No mention.
    Fisherman murdered, farmers targeted. No mention.
    Mosques vandalized and torched. No mention.
    Orchards razed, farmlands bulldozed. No mention.
    Acts of piracy and murder on the high seas. No mention.
    Murders, vandalisms, stonings, trespasses, and attrocities committed almost DAILY against the Palestinians by fanatic settlers, no mention.
    The list goes on and on, and is added to daily.
    Elsewhere, above, I describe an interview of Michael Oren that was aired on NPR. The format, delivery, and content was so laughably biased that I was truly astounded that such crap made it onto the airwaves. Yet, in retrospect, I realize we are subjected to such pablum non-stop constantly. Why should it suprise me to find it on NPR???
    There was a time I read this blog because I really honestly thought that you were offering an alternative. I still entertain a glimmer of that original optimism that kept me coming back to read and comment.
    I have yet to see the dynamics that determined the futility of Mitchell’s efforts described honestly. Perhaps, some day, some deep thinker will gift us with an honest accounting. One can only hope.
    (Damn, already a flame war, above. What Paul and Neo don’t seem to understand is that the idea behind the baiting is to stop the flow of anti-Israel facts, opinions, and essays that appear here in the comment section. Rather than reputiating these essays with debate, the more economical and ultimately successful effort is to erase the essays and opinions completely, through shutting down the comments. That appears to be the objective now. The closer Steve gets to performing such an act, we can expect the abrasive baiting to accelerate, hoping to incite comments will push Steve over the edge. So, bear in mind, that there are commenters here that WANT to see the comments shut down. Don’t aid them in their efforts.)


  18. Paul Norheim says:

    Neo Controll and non-hater (on another thread) is right. Pearlman is a troll specializing in provocative one-liners, accusing
    fellow commenters of wanting to finish what Adolf Eichman started; or combining his anti-Arab bigotry (ad populum) with
    the sexual preferences of the host (ad hominem) into obnoxious insults. I hope you can somehow block his posts, Steve.


  19. Neo Controll says:

    Bill Pearlman, your comment adds nothing, does not seem constructive, and certainly slanders Steven Walt, and tangentially Dakotaborn Kansan. Perhaps you should review Steve’s admonition, part of which says:
    “Please keep the tone of comments on this blog constructive. This is a blog dedicated to fair and civil debate and discussion and welcomes a wide array of views. Slanderous and/or ad hominem attacks on anyone will result in the re-imposition of restrictions and the barring of the commenter from the blog.”


  20. Dan Kervick says:

    “Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell and his team made two key errors …”
    Didn’t Mitchell just work for the White House? Are there people in the White House who actually wanted Mitchell to pursue a different strategy?
    And what power to influence events did Mitchell have left after his boss publicly folded like a broken accordion in response to the most glancing test blow thrown by Netanyahu?
    Another patsy under the buss.


  21. Alan Tomlinson says:

    The Israeli government will not change its behavior until it
    wants to. Have patience or prepare to be disappointed. If the
    US feels that rewarding that government for its behavior is
    appropriate, fine. But rewarding the behavior and hoping for
    change is fairly questionable from a logical standpoint.
    Alan Tomlinson


  22. DakotabornKansan says:

    In January 1010, Stephen Walt/Foreign Policy wrote that it was time for George Mitchell to resign.


  23. non-hater says:

    Mitchell may not have pursued the best strategy but the fact he was undercut almost completely can’t be emphasized enough. Special envoys either need to be empowered or eliminated. That said, it would have still been a hopeless task for Mitchell even if he had authority to be the primary point of contact for the US.


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *