CNAS Report is a Sign of the Times

For another data point on the marked shift in American discourse on Israel/Palestine that has been occurring in recent years, check out the new report on “Setting the Conditions for a Palestinian State” that was released today by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The report lays out the framework for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to enforce a potential two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.

As is so often the case, what’s important here is not what is being said, but rather who is saying it. CNAS was founded in 2007 by Michele Flournoy (now the Obama administration’s undersecretary of defense for policy and rumored to be a potential successor to Robert Gates) and Kurt Campbell (now a top Asia hand at the State Department), who were only two of the nearly dozen CNAS vets to join the Obama administration. A major part of the reason for CNAS’s pipeline into the administration is the organization’s success in portraying itself as the home of “serious” liberals that even a hawk could respect. Without detracting from the organization’s fellows, many of whom are genuinely excellent, it is fair to say that CNAS has strived to cultivate an reputation for technocratic problem-solving rather than ideological liberalism. The organization did not make its name with outspoken denunciations of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it made its name with pragmatic recommendations for how to wage the wars more effectively. (The fact that the organization formed and its leadership came to public prominence well after the wars were already underway means that we will never know whether many of its leaders would have favored the wars in the first place.) In particular, CNAS has carved out a niche as the think-tank of choice for proponents of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, currently enjoying something of a renaissance in popularity; CNAS’s current president, Lt. Col. (ret.) John Nagl, helped write the military’s counterinsurgency field manual under General David Petraeus.

CNAS’s apparent aversion to political risk-taking makes it all the more surprising to see the organization wade into the fray on Israel/Palestine — and particularly to raise the once-taboo issue of an international peacekeeping force to enforce a two-state agreement. Coming on the heels of the recent controversy surrounding Petraeus’s own views on Israel/Palestine — he came under fire from hawks for suggesting [PDF, p. 12] that the perpetuation of the conflict harms U.S. interests — the release of the CNAS report suggests two things. First, there is a growing belief both in the military and in Washington national-security circles that the status quo on Israel/Palestine is unacceptable and that assertive US action is necessary to change it. Second, there is a diminishing level of fear about the political consequences of making such beliefs public.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. You’re going beyond your evidence in your conclu-sion. What you’re reporting amounts to a toe in the water, nothing more.

    Please wake me up when the “assertive US action” takes place. I hope that I’m wrong, but I don’t believe anything fundamental will change — at least I won’t believe it until I actually see it.

  2. Jon, the ideas have to be thrown out there first. It has long seemed reasonable that there be a international presence in protecting the division of Israel from Palestine. However, I always got the sense that Israel was most against it.

    The US has never been against the international force, especially since the alternative would be American forces–Israel, I believe knows they don’t want Americans standing witness to this conflict.

    An international force will have less influence over the American people than American troops. Those international troops are anti-semitic anyway, so why would you believe their biased perspective?

    Floating a proposal is a long way from getting tracks on the ground, so I don’t disagree with you Jon. But, changes in mere rhetoric does represent a sea change.

  3. Nothing will change until people have the courage to confront the corrupting influence of AIPAC and Israel-firster, fully expose it and end it. Perhaps we are starting to see baby steps in that direction, but we are far from seeing “assertive US action”.

    “You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 Senators on this napkin.” –Former AIPAC official Steven Rosen, speaking to a sympathetic “journalist” and former Israeli military prison guard at the notorious Ketziot detention camp during the first Intifada (Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg of the The Atlantic magazine).

  4. Well, I just read that the Israeli government has officially rejected the Obama administration’s call to stop settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Really looks like Petraeus’ comments have got them shaking in their boots.

    Now, please tell us what “assertive US action” is coming as a result of the Israelis thumbing their noses at the US government.

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