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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Olmert claims to overrule Condi Rice, confirms Arab suspicions

There's a story going around today told by Israeli PM Olmert, that, after Condi Rice proposed the UNSC ceasefire proposal, Olmert called George Bush, pulling Bush out in the middle of a speech to take the call, to then overrule Condi Rice and order a vote for abstention. (Olmert's version in the third paragraph here.)

Juan Cole (in a very long post that I don't fully agree with) aptly points out that the speech in question was not interrupted, so that claim is false, however, it does appear that Olmert's last minute call did get Bush to alter Condi Rice's planned course. Olmert didn't get the veto, but he did get a watering down abstention.

To me, the storyline that Olmert is broadcasting is a disaster as it reinforces the worst images across the Arab world about the US-Israel relationship.

Now, I'm not looking for broad anti-Israel rants or screeds here, so if that's your inclination, just skip it, because I don't enjoy that, and frankly, we really don't know the truth about all this.

The reason I'm posting this is the curiosity that I so frequently echo, the why did Olmert say this, very publicly, and why now? Within the foreign politics, this is huge (and Olmert knows that.)

Later: As Anon points out in comments, the White House denies the phone call.

As I said earlier, I don't know what's true here. It's the politics of the statement that's interesting.


  • Olmert is up for a re-election and I think the most Hawkish looking canidate gets the prize.

    By Blogger matt, at 8:27 AM  

  • Matt nails it. Olmert is showing how tough he is. But it does make Bush look weak.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:25 AM  

  • It's just a godawful mess. I'm afraid matt is right that for Omert it's political positioning. In any event, it's really bad policy on every level. Gah.

    By Blogger Libby Spencer, at 10:22 AM  

  • I can only think of two possibilities. 1) to affect domestic politics with the election coming up, 2) to affect US foreign policy.

    I'm going to go with option 1, because this sort of loutishness ("When I talk, US jumps") is counter productive. The Obama administration, it seems to me, will need to make it clear to the international community in general, and Arabs in particular, that the US is not Olmert's (or Israel's) poodle.

    Maybe there's a third option... to tweak the noses of Arab nations by show how much the US is in his pocket.?

    Who know why men with great power -- and even greater egos -- shoot their mouths off.

    By Blogger -epm, at 10:29 AM  

  • I prone to agree with Matt, too, but I would also point out a secondary "state" purpose,

    Creating more distance between the US and the Arab side of diplomacy on the Gaza negotiations.

    Olmert completely undermined Condi Rice here, so all her contacts will be so much harder. Anything she proposes will have to be "confirmed" by the White House. Every step will be much slower.

    It really does hurt the US image in the bargain, though.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 10:32 AM  

  • Well, it hurts Bush's image. It remains to be seen what damage is done to US/Arab relations because of this.

    And it's only a problem for Condi for the next 7 days. I bet at this point she's only doing pro forma work anyway... as if anyone could tell the difference.

    Remember, in 7 days Secretary of State Clinton will be on the job. And she won't be shopping for shoes.

    By Blogger -epm, at 10:44 AM  

  • EPM, but maybe the Israelis are only trying to buy a week. If they can stop any motion until Obama Clinton get in, they make them start from a standstill.

    And Rice is working (or at least has been working) pretty damn hard on a ceasefire.

    I have a long history of saying. "Condi Rice is useless," but in this case she seemed to be actually trying, despite being undermined by the Cheney faction. She has gained alot of power over the last year as Cheney has receded.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 10:53 AM  

  • Good points.

    It seems to me that one side or another always seems to spit in the eye of the out-going US administrations. Arafat with Clinton and now Olmert with Bush. Or is that too much of a simplification?

    By Blogger -epm, at 11:03 AM  

  • I see the White House has denied the phone call part. That does still leave the boastful speech Olmert made in Ashkelon. Very tactless. Could help Netanyahu.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 PM  

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