The Cable

U.S. Shoots Down Russia’s Push to Scrap Missile Shield

For years, the U.S. government has insisted that a planned missile defense system in Europe served to protect America's allies against attacks from Iran. Now that the nuclear threat from Iran may be receding, Russia, which has always seen the system as a menace to its own security, has suggested scrapping the program. But the White House on Thursday said the missile shield, otherwise known as the European phased adaptive approach (EPAA), isn't going anywhere.

"Our plans regarding missile defense in Europe and our commitment to EPAA as the U.S. contribution to NATO missile defense remain unchanged," National Security Council spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson told The Cable.

The idea of scaling back NATO's missile defense system was floated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday following a meeting with Russian and NATO counterparts. "If the Iranian nuclear program is placed under the complete and tight control of the IAEA, the reasons that are now given for the creation of the European segment of the missile defense system will become invalid," said Lavrov.

Of course, placing Iran's nuclear program under tight U.N. control would require a comprehensive deal between Iran and six world powers, the so-called P5+1. Negotiators still have half a year to hammer out the details of a final agreement, which could implode at any moment -- a point the White House acknowledged. "There is still much work to be done as we negotiate the contours of a comprehensive solution over the next six months," said Lucas Magnuson.

Regardless, the decision to stay firm on the missile shield has sparked rare agreement between the White House and Republican hawks in Congress. "We absolutely must continue to put in place an effective and affordable missile defense system in Europe," Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told The Cable.

That's not to say all Republicans are relieved. Moscow's prominent seat at the P5+1 has some U.S. lawmakers worried that Russia could engineer side-deals involving the NATO missile shield.

"I fear that missile defense and our alliances are just a negotiating chit to the administration when it comes to maintaining the fiction of a cooperative relationship with Putin," Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), told The Cable.

The White House did not forecast whether it might change its mind about the defense shield in the future, but for some Republicans, the idea of scrapping the plans under any scenario is a non-starter. "Even if a deal were to work out in the next six months, Iran will retain the ability to  enrich nuclear materials to assemble a nuclear weapon in the future, and would be able to field it in far less time than it would take for the U.S. and NATO to deploy a missile defense system in Europe," said Inhofe. "Furthermore, an effective missile defense system is an important hedge against other nations that might choose to follow in the dangerous footsteps of Iran and North Korea and has an important nonproliferation effect."

As it stands, the Obama administration has plans to build up NATO's defense shield in Europe with the deployment of shorter-and medium-range interceptors in three stages. (The administration plans to install medium-range interceptors in Redzikowo, Poland by 2018.) Back in March, the administration announced that it was abandoning the final phase of the defense shield, which would've included long-range missiles. As the Brookings Institution's Steven Pifer noted this week, the rollout of that announcement did not go so well with U.S. partners in Europe, leaving some "wondering whether Washington was making decisions regarding their security without taking account of their views."

"If developments with and in Iran create the possibility to reconsider the [defense shield] - still a big if - Washington would want to engage allies early in a consultative process," said Pifer.

While Pifer argues that European allies could be reassured with the right amount of consultation, it's hard to picture Republicans being similarly assuaged. "Any Russian attempts to leverage a deal with Iran to undermine the NATO Alliance and the establishment of a missile defense system would be reprehensible and we should not succumb to blackmail," said Inhofe.

The Cable

"I Hate Israel Handbook" Author Welcomes His Haters

"They've helped sell my books," Max Blumenthal said Wednesday about the critics of his controversial and newly-published book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

Blumenthal was smiling before a seated audience at the New America Foundation, a prominent Washington think tank, which itself came under attack for hosting the event for Blumenthal's book. To critics, Blumenthal is an anti-Israel smear artist. The Nation's left-wing scribe Eric Alterman called his work the "‘I Hate Israel' Handbook" and labeled him a "profoundly unreliable narrator." Commentary's right-wing writer Jonathan Tobin called the book "trash" and ripped New America's president Anne-Marie Slaughter for associating her institution "with a book that smears Israelis as Nazis." In the mainstream American press, Goliath's detractors outnumber its supporters. But Blumenthal isn't bothered.

"The fact is, a balloon needs hot air to rise," he told the crowd. "I thank them on some level."

The "hot air" Blumenthal spoke of has followed him across the country as he supports his book -- a 500-page indictment of Israel's treatment of Palestinians based on four years of research and reporting in the country. To supporters, Blumenthal is an unapologetic truth-teller.

"The only worthwhile, honest discussion of Israel can come from someone who possesses two attributes: fearlessness and expertise," wrote former Guardian journalist and provocateur Glenn Greenwald in praise of Goliath. "Max Blumenthal wields both in abundance, and the result is an eye-opening and stunningly insightful book."

But praise from established Israel critics hasn't made the book tour any less rocky. Goliath has ruffled D.C.'s foreign policy establishment and reaffirmed the radioactive nature of the Israel-Palestine debate in the U.S.

In October, the conservative Florida Family Association called on members to flood the inbox of an Arizona hotel hosting an event featuring Blumenthal. "Americans who are concerned about Max Blumenthal's propaganda ... have the First Amendment Right to complain about this event," read an FFA bulletin. (The group also organized against Electronic Arts for allegations about gay stormtroopers appearing in a Star Wars video game).

In a November book event at the Dallas World Affairs Council, Blumenthal said event staffers told him that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee "called and demanded the event be shut down." A representative for AIPAC tells The Cable the charge "is not true -- completely false."

Last week, Tobin attempted to shame the New America Foundation out of hosting Wednesday's book chat. "NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach," he wrote. "By doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right."

That the book is controversial is unsurprising. With chapter titles such as "Concentration Camp" and "Night of the Broken Glass," critics charge that Blumenthal is implying an equivalence between the Jewish State and Nazi Germany. That the book would be deemed unfit for public events, however, strikes some as overly-zealous.

"If a think tank can't have a book event, we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing," Peter Bergen, the event's moderator, told The Cable. "It was a public event and if they wanted to challenge [the book], it was open to anybody who wanted to come."

Bergen characterized the controversy surrounding the book as one of style versus substance. "The critiques of your book seem to be not as much about the facts," he said during the event, "it's more about the tone in the book."

But that doesn't mean the think tank wasn't prepared for significant or even violent blowback. On Wednesday, NAF sent out an all-staff e-mail notifying employees "we are hosting an event which requires additional security." Elevators up to the event required a key swipe.

Surprisingly, Blumenthal didn't take any flack during the event's Q&A segment, which attracted a sympathetic crowd of Middle East enthusiasts who commended Blumenthal on his dedication to the topic. The kumbayas ended during the book signing when a reporter for the right-wing news site Washington Free Beacon asked Blumenthal if he was concerned about a positive review of his book by a white supremacist -- an endorsement Blumenthal did not solicit.

 "I am not answering your questions or speaking to you," Blumenthal told the reporter. "I'm not speaking to you."

The Free Beacon has made the controversy surrounding the book an editorial priority, including one article centered on Blumenthal's father, a longtime Bill and Hillary Clinton confidante. "I don't consider them to be a site that wants to do anything but smear me or publish one derogatory post after another," Blumenthal told The Cable. "It just shows how desperate they are."

Though Blumenthal brushed off criticisms of his book with humor, he pushed back hard against the perceived double standard of acceptable Israel-focused discourse in Washington.

"Naftali Bennett just spoke at the Brookings Institute and there was no effort to prevent him from speaking at the premier think tank in Washington," he said, referring to Israel's economy minister and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party. "I don't know that there necessarily should be [an effort to censor him] even though Naftali Bennett recently endorsed the decision ... to bar religious Jewish women from volunteering in hospitals after 9 p.m. for fear that they would date Arab doctors."

He went on to list the various book events in which Israel advocates protested his presence. "I'm not surprised by it," he said. "But I am impressed by anyone who stands up to this suppression as the New America Foundation has done."

New America Foundation