General Petraeus’s leaked emails about Israel

Blogger Philip Weiss has them, and they’re not pretty.

I've written the cover story for this week's New Statesman on the rise and rise of David Petraeus and America's "cult of the generals".

Here's an extract:

Twelve of the 43 men who have served as US president have been former generals -- including the very first occupant of the Oval Office, George Washington. Nonetheless, there has not been a general in the White House since Dwight D Eisenhower, the former Supreme Allied Commander in the Second World War and architect of the D-Day landings, left office in 1961 (excoriating the "military-industrial complex" on his way out). But the rise of the generals in recent years, exemplified by the hallowed status of Petraeus, has altered the dynamic. If a general is elected to the White House in 2012 or 2016, the grip of this cult on the US polity will once again have been demonstrated.

Interestingly, in an unrelated story on the supposedly declining power of the Israel lobby in today's Guardian, the paper's Washington correspondent, Chris McGreal, writes:

Senior figures in the American military, including General David Petraeus who has commanded US forces in both wars, have identified Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land as an obstacle to resolving those conflicts.

McGreal is referring to the general's official "posture" statement on US Central Command -- which Petraeus was in charge of before he was redeployed to Afghanistan by President Obama a fortnight ago. In this, he says:

The [Israel-Palestine] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [Centcom's Area of Responsibility] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.

Petraeus's prepared statement caused uproar in pro-Israeli circles back in March, when it was published, with some on the right and the left automatically assuming he must be a private supporter of the Palestinians and that he had suddenly and bravely decided to stand up to the Israel lobby inside the United States.

But guess what? In a gaffe that hasn't yet attracted the same amount of press as Stanley McChrystal's bizarre interview with Rolling Stone, Petraeus accidentally leaked an email exchange of his -- with the belligerent, neoconservative, pro-Israeli columnist Max Boot -- to an activist named James Morris, who then passed it on to the blogger Philip Weiss:

Last March General David Petraeus, then head of Central Command, sought to undercut his own testimony before the Senate armed services committee that was critical of Israel by intriguing with a right-wing writer to put out a different story, in emails obtained by Mondoweiss.

The emails show Petraeus encouraging Max Boot of Commentary to write a story -- and offering the neoconservative writer choice details about his views on the Holocaust:

"Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?! And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome . . ."

Petraeus passed the emails along himself through carelessness last March. He pasted a Boot column from Commentary's blog into in an "FYI" email he sent to an activist who is highly critical of the US's special relationship with Israel. Some of the general's emails to Boot were attached to the bottom of the story. The activist, James Morris, shared the emails with me.

You can read the full details here.

Meanwhile, here's a taster of Clayton Swisher's amusing response on the al-Jazeera blog:

It's not clear what miracles Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel can work for General Petraeus now that he's the top officer in Kabul.

Based on these emails Petraeus apparently authored, subsequently leaked to blogger Philip Weiss, it seems the former Central Commander thought a private dinner with Weisel and a Holocaust Museum stint might boost his pro-Israel bona fides ("some of my best friends are Jewish!").

I guess the good general is keener on becoming the next US president, and not upsetting the Israel lobby in the meantime, than some had assumed.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Under pressure at home, Donald Trump will struggle to deliver what Saudi Arabia wants

Above all, the Gulf states want stability. Can this beleaguered US president bring order?

There is a nervous energy around Riyadh. Fresh palm trees line the roads from the airport, punctuated by a wall of American flags and corporate slogans: “Together we prevail.” All the street lights are suddenly working.

The visit of any American president is always a lavish affair in Saudi Arabia, but there is an optimism to this visit that evaded the Obama years and even the recent visits of Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

Yet, there are two distinct parts to this trip – Trump’s first overseas engagement as president – that will determine its success. The first is relatively straightforward. Trump will sign huge defence contracts worth billions of dollars and offer trading opportunities that allow him to maintain his narrative of economic renewal for American businesses.

For the Saudis, too, these deals will fit into their ambitious project – known as Vision 2030 – to expand and diversify their economy away from its current dependence on oil revenues. Both parties are comfortable with this type of corporate and transactional government, enjoying the gaudy pomp and ceremony that comes with the signing of newly minted deals.

The more complicated aspects of the trip relate to its political dimensions. As the Middle East continues to convulse under the most significant turmoil to envelope it since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, what Gulf leaders desperately want is the re-establishment of order. At its core, that is what will define Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and the Saudis are optimistic.

Their buoyancy is borne of shared regional interests, not least curbing Iranian influence. Ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Tehran has asserted itself across the Levant by organising hundreds of proxies to fight on its behalf in Syria and Iraq. Closer to home, too, the Gulf states accuse Iran of fomenting unrest within Shia communities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, in Bahrain, and in Yemen.

All of this has left the House of Saud feeling especially vulnerable. Having enjoyed an American security umbrella since the 1970s, Obama’s pursuit of the Iran deal left them feeling particularly exposed.

In part at least, this explains some of the Kingdom’s more frantic actions at home and abroad – including the execution of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the war in Yemen. Both are really about posturing to Iran: projecting power and demonstrating Saudi resolve.

Trump shares these concerns over Iranian influence, is prepared to look the other way on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is deeply opposed to Obama’s nuclear deal. Riyadh believes he will restore the status quo and is encouraged by the direction of travel.

Just last month Trump commissioned a review of the Iran deal while the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia also welcomed Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles against a Syrian military base last month after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

These measures have been largely tokenistic, but their broader impact has been very significant. The Saudis, and their Gulf partners more generally, feel greatly reassured. This is an American presence in the region that is aligned to their interests, that they know well and can manage.

That is why Gulf states have rushed to embrace the new president ever since he first entered the Oval Office. Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (colloquially known simply as “MBS”), already visited him in Washington earlier this year. The Emiratis and others followed shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for Mohammed bin Salman later described the meeting with Trump as an “historical turning point” in relations between the two countries. A White House readout of the meeting baldly stated: “The President and the deputy crown prince noted the importance of confronting Iran's destabilising regional activities.”

Now that Trump is visiting them, the Saudis are hoping to broker an even broader series of engagements between the current administration and the Islamic world. To that end, they are bringing 24 different Muslim leaders to Saudi Arabia for this visit.

This is where Trump’s visit is likely to be fraught because he plans to deliver a major speech about Islam during his visit – a move that has seemingly no positives associated with it.

There is a lot of interest (and bemusement) from ordinary Saudis about what Trump will actually say. Most are willing to look beyond his divisive campaign rhetoric – he did, after all, declare “I think Islam hates us” – and listen to him in Riyadh. But what can he say?

Either he will indulge his audience by describing Islam as a great civilisation, thereby angering much of his political base; or he will stick to the deeply hostile rhetoric of his campaign.

There is, of course, room for an informed, careful, and nuanced speech to be made on the topic, but these are not adjectives commonly associated with Donald Trump. Indeed, the pressure is on.

He will be on the road for nine days at a time when pressure is building over the sacking of the former FBI director James Comey and the ongoing investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

It is already being reported that Trump is not entirely enthusiastic about such a long overseas programme, but he is committed now. As with almost everything concerning his presidency, this extra pressure adds a wild air of unpredictability to what could happen.

Away from the lucrative deals and glad-handing, this will be the real standard by which to measure the success of Trump’s visit. For a relationship principally defined by its pursuit of stability, whether Trump can deliver what the Gulf really wants remains to be seen.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

0800 7318496