A more active approach to the Middle East by Nathan Guttman
By Nathan Guttman
August 3, 2004
John Kerry is as pro-Israeli as George Bush, promises the Democrat's national security adviser, Rand Beers. But Kerry can achieve more in the Middle East because he will be an `honest broker.' BOSTON - The job of national security adviser to an American presidential candidate is usually fairly easy. Over the past decades, elections were won or lost on domestic and economic issues, which usually overshadowed foreign policy and security matters.However in this election, the first since the terror attacks in the U.S. and after two American wars - in Afghanistan and Iraq - foreign and security issues have taken center stage in political discourse. The man in charge of this area for John Kerry's campaign is Rand Beers, who quite dramatically chose to leave the National Security Council in the State Department to take up his present position with the Democratic presidential candidate.In an interview at the close of the Democratic Convention in Boston on Friday, Beers tried to sketch the main differences between John Kerry's approach, for which Beers is responsible, and President Bush's approach.If Kerry is elected president, says Beers, he pledges a more active approach in advancing the cause of peace in the Middle East and in dealing with the problems of the region. Nevertheless, on most of the key issues, including the future of the American forces in Iraq, the question of the Palestinian partner in negotiations, and positions vis-a-vis Arab countries, the differences are not great.Beers' most significant news regarding the Middle East is that Kerry intends to appoint a high-level emissary to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an appointment Beers calls an "early priority" if Kerry is elected, although he refuses to name names. Kerry was already burned once in this area, when in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in December he mentioned James Baker and Jimmy Carter as possible candidates for the job of mediator.Former secretary of state James Baker, who initiated the Madrid Conference, is considered by many to hold a pro-Arab line. It was even reported at the time of the loan guarantee crisis with the Yitzhak Shamir government that Baker used the F-word with regard to the Jews, "who don't vote for us anyhow." Carter, for his part, the man behind the 1979 Camp David accords, was and is very critical of Israel's policy of settlements.Kerry's mentioning of those two names earned him the barbs of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as well as American Jewish organizational leaders, such as Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman and the president of the American Jewish Congress, Jack Rosen, who said that the choice of Baker and Carter as mediators showed that Kerry was no Israel supporter.The names were taken off the table, and today Beers is much more cautious. "We're not going to use names anymore," he says, "It is enough to say that John Kerry will chose a high-level person that will be accepted by both sides."Quit out of protestAlthough Kerry began this election campaign with a few question marks regarding his attitude to Israel and the Middle East, he hurried to toe Bush's line on the conflict. Like Bush, Kerry supports disengagement and leaving large settlement blocs intact, and solving the Palestinian refugee problem in the Palestinian state. "You don't have to have differences on every issue," Beers says. "In American politics, there are issues that cross the party boundaries."The main difference that the Kerry advisor presents on the Israeli-Palestinian front is in the extent of involvement. Not only will Kerry send a high-level emissary, but there will also be "more involvement on Kerry's behalf in supporting Israel, and working to solve the problem of violence and bring about an evolution in the Palestinian leadership," as Beers puts it.However, Beers stresses that it is too early to discuss a return to the days of the Clinton-era "peace team.""A lot has changed since then," Beers notes. "You need to solve first the problem of violence and of Palestinian representation before you can go into any kind of negotiations."The interview with Beers took place about an hour after a phone call between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and John Kerry, in which Sharon congratulated Kerry on officially receiving his party's nomination. That conversation, like a number of other contacts between Kerry and Israeli officials over the past weeks, was intended among other things to show that relations between Sharon and Kerry are good, and that Israel does not prefer one candidate over another.A week before the convention, Beers was invited to lunch at the home of Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., together with other representatives from Kerry's foreign policy team. There he heard that Israel was "100 percent neutral" with regard to the American election campaign. Beers says that he never doubted Israel's neutrality, and that he does not share the concerns of some Democrats quoted as claiming that Sharon prefers Bush.Beers also does not consider significant the fact that Sharon did not find the time to meet with Kerry when Sharon was in the U.S. in April - a fact that led to bitterness against Sharon. "We didn't read into it more than it was," he notes, explaining that he certainly understands the scheduling problems of such a short visit.Rand Beers has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, including those of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and the present President Bush. But in March 2003, a short time after the war started in Iraq, he decided to leave the National Security Council, where he was in charge of the war against terror.The departure of such a key person at the start of the war, especially the individual who coordinated anti-terror activity, was considered extraordinary. Although official announcements noted "personal reasons," it was clear to all that the step was a protest. In subsequent interviews, Beers acknowledged that he had resigned because he no longer concurred with President Bush's policies.Sources in the National Security Council noted Beers' frustration over the moving of funds and attention from terror to the war in Iraq, and his concern that the invasion of Iraq would sabotage his ability to properly manage the war against terror.Tough on Saudi ArabiaBeers joined Kerry's campaign a short time after he resigned from the National Security Council, when Kerry was still one of nine candidates for the Democratic nomination, and far from the front-runner. Beers said he chose to work with Kerry not only because he appreciated Kerry's work in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but also because the candidate had fought in Vietnam. Beers himself served as a marine squad commander in that war.Considered the leading candidate for national security advisor if Kerry wins on November 2, Beers promises that his boss will reenter the heart of the diplomatic arena, which he claims was abandoned by the Bush White House.Beers said he believes that diplomacy can make the difference between success and failure, and as proof he brings up the issue of the changes in Palestinian leadership - the fact that Bush and his people were unable to bring about Yasser Arafat's replacement and an alternative leadership does not mean that the idea was not good, but rather that it was badly executed."Diplomacy wasn't the strong side of the Bush administration," he sums up, promising that a future administration headed by Kerry "will hold high-level discussions with all parties" to reach the goal of a changed leadership.Beers does not subscribe to the approach adopted by Bill Clinton, who believed that even if Arafat was a disappointment, he was irreplaceable. Beers argues that the creation of a new Palestinian leadership is a primary condition for advancement.Saudi Arabia is the junction at which the foreign policy of Bush and Kerry part ways. While Bush zealously protects his friendship with the Saudis, in spite of criticism of their behavior in the war on terror, Kerry places the Saudis squarely in his critical sights. Even in his acceptance speech in Boston he did not forget to note that as president he would work to liberate the U.S. from its dependence on oil in the Middle East."I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family," Kerry said to resounding cheers. He also continually promised that if elected, he would demand that the Saudis show responsibility and act in the war on terror.How will this hard tack on Saudi Arabia and his clear position in favor of Israel go over in the Arab world? Beers believes that Kerry will manage to position himself as an honest broker in the Middle East in spite of these stands. He says that Kerry's willingness to listen and not only talk will show people that they can cooperate with him. "It is clear to us that it won't happen right away," Beers concedes. "We know it will take time. This is all part of the art of diplomacy."