Follow us on social

‘This whole thing is about Iran’: GOP blasts Biden's Israel ambassador pick

‘This whole thing is about Iran’: GOP blasts Biden's Israel ambassador pick

Senators say Obama-era nuclear deal facilitated funds for Hamas.

Reporting | Washington Politics

During a hearing to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, Biden nominee Jacob Lew was sure to affirm Washington's support for Israel as it responds to Hamas’s attacks by shelling Gaza with missiles and preparing for a possible ground invasion.

But the former secretary of the Treasury spent just as much — if not more — time sparring with Republican members over his role in the implementation of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran during his hearing on Wednesday.

There has been no permanent ambassador to Israel since Tom Nides left the post in July. It's been a month since Lew was nominated, but the events of the last 10 days pushed the Senate to act quickly to fill the role.

There were a number of questions about the current war in yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, with Lew emphasizing Israel’s right to defend itself. He also stressed the importance of following the laws of war, but acknowledged the impossibility of avoiding civilian deaths in the kind of campaign that Israel is waging, pointing to past U.S. efforts to combat ISIS as evidence.

GOP members of the committee, however, were much more interested in Lew’s previous role in the Obama administration for which they accused him of facilitating Iran’s entrance into the U.S. financial markets, and ultimately resourcing Hamas.

In the words of Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member on the committee, “this whole thing is about Iran.”

Sen. Marco Rubio,(R-Fla.) accused Lew of "misleading" Senators while he was at the Treasury and for relaxing sanctions on Iran, a charge Lew vehemently denied.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called Lew a "critical piece" of the Obama administration's "campaign of appeasement" toward Iran.

After hearing Republican after Republican zero on this issue, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the newly-named chairman of the committee, retorted that he had been very lenient in allowing members to pursue a line of questioning focused on sanctions and the nuclear issue, issues which Lew would not be directly responsible for if confirmed to his new role.

“I would just like to point out that we do have a nominee for the office of sanctions coordinator,” Cardin said. “And I hope that we can get a hearing on that nominee because I think that would be the appropriate place to talk about sanctions enforcement and previous policies concerning sanctions enforcement.”

When it came to policy towards Israel, Lew hewed very closely to the Biden administration’s line, often invoking the president’s exact words in the days since the latest war in Gaza broke out. “The president said as recently as this morning, without the state of Israel, it's not just the people of Israel who aren’t safe,” Lew said when asked why the U.S.-Israel relationship was special. “Jews around the world aren’t safe.”

The hearing was also marked by a series of interruptions early in the proceedings, with three protesters calling for a “ceasefire now,” and for Washington to stop sending aid that they said was allowing for the “genocide of Palestinians.”

A few Democrats raised concerns about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Lew said that it was important to “minimize” the “collateral damage” of Israel’s war, but that now was not the time to “lecture” Tel Aviv on “what they have to do to establish the security that they have a responsibility to provide.”

The White House has urged the Senate to move Lew’s nomination out of committee and to a full Senate vote quickly, though some Republicans are reportedly mulling putting a hold on his confirmation.

Photo: C-Span

Jacob Lew testifies in front of Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Reporting | Washington Politics
Will US troops have to  go to war for Mohammed bin Salman? (VIDEO)
Biden's Saudi War Obligation

Will US troops have to go to war for Mohammed bin Salman? (VIDEO)

Video Section

Even as the war in Gaza rages on and the death toll surpasses 35,000, the Biden administration appears set on pursuing its vision of a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal that it sees as the path to peace in the Middle East.

But, the agreement that the administration is selling as a peace agreement that will put Palestine on the path to statehood and fundamentally transform the region ultimately amounts to a U.S. war obligation for Saudi Arabia that would also give Mohammed bin Salman nuclear technology.

keep readingShow less
Following a largely preordained election, Vladimir Putin was sworn in last week for another six-year term as president of Russia. Putin’s victory has, of course, been met with accusations of fraud and political interference, factors that help explain his 87.3% vote share.   If this continuation of Putin’s 24-year-long hold on power makes one thing clear, it’s that he and his regime will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. But, as his war in Ukraine continues with no clear end in sight, what is less clear is how Washington plans to deal with this reality.  Experts say Washington needs to start projecting a long-term strategy toward Russia and its war in Ukraine, wielding its political leverage to apply pressure on Putin and push for more diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict. Only by looking beyond short-term solutions can Washington realistically move the needle in Ukraine.  Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, the U.S. has focused on getting aid to Ukraine to help it win back all of its pre-2014 territory, a goal complicated by Kyiv’s systemic shortages of munitions and manpower. But that response neglects a more strategic approach to the war, according to Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who spoke in a recent panel hosted by Carnegie.   “There is a vortex of emergency planning that people have been, unfortunately, sucked into for the better part of two years since the intelligence first arrived in the fall of 2021,” Weiss said. “And so the urgent crowds out the strategic.”   Historian Stephen Kotkin, for his part, says preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty is critical. However, the apparent focus on regaining territory, pushed by the U.S., is misguided.   “Wars are never about regaining territory. It's about the capacity to fight and the will to fight. And if Russia has the capacity to fight and Ukraine takes back territory, Russia won't stop fighting,” Kotkin said in a podcast on the Wall Street Journal.  And it appears Russia does have the capacity. The number of troops and weapons at Russia’s disposal far exceeds Ukraine’s, and Russian leaders spend twice as much on defense as their Ukrainian counterparts. Ukraine will need a continuous supply of aid from the West to continue to match up to Russia. And while aid to Ukraine is important, Kotkin says, so is a clear plan for determining the preferred outcome of the war.  The U.S. may be better served by using the significant political leverage it has over Russia to shape a long-term outcome in its favor.   George Beebe of the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft, says that Russia’s primary concerns and interests do not end with Ukraine. Moscow is fundamentally concerned about the NATO alliance and the threat it may pose to Russian internal stability. Negotiations and dialogue about the bounds and limits of NATO and Russia’s powers, therefore, are critical to the broader conflict.   This is a process that is not possible without the U.S. and Europe. “That means by definition, we have some leverage,” Beebe says.   To this point, Kotkin says the strength of the U.S. and its allies lies in their political influence — where they are much more powerful than Russia — rather than on the battlefield. Leveraging this influence will be a necessary tool in reaching an agreement that is favorable to the West’s interests, “one that protects the United States, protects its allies in Europe, that preserves an independent Ukraine, but also respects Russia's core security interests there.”  In Kotkin’s view, this would mean pushing for an armistice that ends the fighting on the ground and preserves Ukrainian sovereignty, meaning not legally acknowledging Russia’s possession of the territory they have taken during the war. Then, negotiations can proceed.   Beebe adds that a treaty on how conventional forces can be used in Europe will be important, one that establishes limits on where and how militaries can be deployed. “[Russia] need[s] some understanding with the West about what we're all going to agree to rule out in terms of interference in the other's domestic affairs,” Beebe said.     Critical to these objectives is dialogue with Putin, which Beebe says Washington has not done enough to facilitate. U.S. officials have stated publicly that they do not plan to meet with Putin.    The U.S. rejected Putin’s most statements of his willingness to negotiate, which he expressed in an interview with Tucker Carlson in February, citing skepticism that Putin has any genuine intentions of ending the war. “Despite Mr. Putin’s words, we have seen no actions to indicate he is interested in ending this war. If he was, he would pull back his forces and stop his ceaseless attacks on Ukraine,” a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said in response.   But neither side has been open to serious communication. Biden and Putin haven’t met to engage in meaningful talks about the war since it began, their last meeting taking place before the war began in the summer of 2021 in Geneva. Weiss says the U.S. should make it clear that those lines of communication are open.   “Any strategy that involves diplomatic outreach also has to be sort of undergirded by serious resolve and a sense that we're not we're not going anywhere,” Weiss said.  An end to the war will be critical to long-term global stability. Russia will remain a significant player on the world stage, Beebe explains, considering it is the world’s largest nuclear power and a leading energy producer. It is therefore ultimately in the U.S. and Europe’s interests to reach a relationship “that combines competitive and cooperative elements, and where we find a way to manage our differences and make sure that they don't spiral into very dangerous military confrontation,” he says.    As two major global superpowers, the U.S. and Russia need to find a way to share the world. Only genuine, long-term planning can ensure that Washington will be able to shape that future in its best interests.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/File Photo
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/File Photo

Playing the long game with Putin

Europe

Following a largely preordained election, Vladimir Putin was sworn in last week for another six-year term as president of Russia. Putin’s victory has, of course, been met with accusations of fraud and political interference, factors that help explain his 87.3% vote share.

If this continuation of Putin’s 24-year-long hold on power makes one thing clear, it’s that he and his regime will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. But, as his war in Ukraine continues with no clear end in sight, what is less clear is how Washington plans to deal with this reality.

keep readingShow less
Georgia bill passes: Why the West needs to stay out of the protests

Demonstration at Georgia's Parliament in Tbilisi on May 12, 2024, the night before the vote on a law on foreign influence. (Maxime Gruss / Hans Lucas via Reuters)

Georgia bill passes: Why the West needs to stay out of the protests

Europe

Mass protests are roiling the Republic of Georgia as tens of thousands have taken to the streets against a proposed bill by the Georgian government on “foreign influence” that has worsened tension in an already polarized Georgian society.

That bill was passed Tuesday after turmoil in which punches were actually thrown between lawmakers on the parliament floor.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest