The Best Defense

3 heavy hitters on Obama vs. Israel

By William Shields
Best Defense
pundits bureau chief

The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted a panel on Tuesday moderated by Bob Schieffer and featuring heavy hitters Steve Coll, Tom Friedman, and David Ignatius. It was supposed to review the first year of the Obama administration's foreign policy, but given the nature of journalists, even very good ones, they went all ADD over the last 96 hours of news, specifically the spat between the U.S. government and Israel over the announcement of new settlements in East Jerusalem.

Friedman was first to bat, beginning by applauding the administration's rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and arguing that the U.S. response reflected a cathartic release of decades of institutional resentment of Israel's pursuit of a policy counter to U.S. interests. The question, said Friedman, who led the league in slugging for several years but lately has shown signs of aging, is how can the United States channel that frustration into a constructive strategy? According to Friedman, only two of the five major players in the region -- PNA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government and the Palestinian resistance -- have a long-term strategy. The United States, Israel, and moderate Arab states on the other hand have approaches that can be characterized as aimless, short-sighted, and feckless, respectively. Claiming that the Obama administration has the worst Middle East policy of any recent presidency, Friedman said, "I don't even know who directs [the administration's] Middle East policy."

Iggie, as his fans call him, batted second. "Well, the President does," he countered as he stepped into the batter's box, citing Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech and his first public interview as president with Arab television station Al-Arabiya as indicative of a strategy of re-engaging the Muslim world. The speedy Ignatius, eyeing second base, added that Netanyahu gave the Obama administration a gift by doing something so "flagrant that it forced the administration to find its voice."

Ignatius then broke for second. En route, he said he thinks that the administration has a problem with optics. He recounted writing a column arguing that the United States should support Salam Fayyad's two-year transitional plan towards statehood. When a U.S. official called to tell Ignatius that this indeed was the United States' policy, Ignatius responded, "Well, it's news to me." (Anyone wanna contribute to hire him a researcher?) Ignatius, one of the most consistent hitters in the majors, argued that the United States needs to more clearly articulate its policy to give Fayyad the political support he'll need to convince a Palestinian public that is skeptical of a phased transition.

But what if Israel decided to strike Iran, asked umpire Schieffer: "What does the U.S. do?" The panelists said they were not convinced that an Israeli raid against Iran would be either easy or effective. The Anglophile Coll, batting third, explained that there exists in Iran a breadth of nuclear intellectual capacity and infrastructure such that strikes against Iran would not be debilitating. Ignatius, standing on second base, lent him support, questioning the ability of Israel to conduct an operation without U.S. support.

And so the game goes on.


The Best Defense

Rebecca’s war dog of the week: K2, the weenie of Afghanistan


This week's war dog tale comes from a soldier who served in Afghanistan.

By Capt. Michael Cummings, U.S. Army
Best Defense
guest canine contributor

Dogs are as integral to war as bullets, people or tragedy. When I deployed to Afghanistan, regulation forbid keeping dogs as company mascots. But I didn't step foot on a FOB that didn't have at least one dog. Or a resident feral cat. Or pet monkey purchased off base. Or captured python.

We named the above puppy K2. He wasn't my favorite war dog, but the most picturesque. K2 was our second attempt at raising a puppy on our FOB. The first puppy, with the Star Trek-inspired name "Khan," had an unfortunate run-in with anti-freeze in the motor pool.

K2 was the youngest of the three dogs at Camp Joyce. The alpha dog was a bitch nicknamed Mama. She looked like a wolf, with gray fur and menacing eyes. Mama single-handedly kept our FOB clear of other animals, ferociously defending the FOB from any wild Afghan dogs who tried to scavenge our trash pit. Once, she led her pack to run off a herd of lost cattle that made its way to our side of the base. Mama stood her ground and drove them right out the front gate, deftly snapping at their heels. Mama was flanked by a black and white dog about half her size who never even got a name. He was just that dog with one eye. (We never figured out how he lost it.)

K2 lacked Mama's abilities though. When he tried to chase cows away, they would just charge him and he would turn tail. I'll be honest, K2 was a weenie. We didn't like him because he was useful, we liked him because he was a puppy.

What sticks with me most about war dogs was the lengths officers, NCOs and soldiers would go to keep them out of harm's way. I've seen Sergeants Major and Lieutenant Colonels risk their careers over their favorite dogs. About a week before we were supposed to leave country, word came down to get rid of all the animals on every FOB. They weren't authorized, we were told, so they had to go before the new unit came in. The day our full-bird colonel and his replacement came on a battlefield tour, suddenly all the dogs were gone. I assumed they had been taken to the trash pit and executed, the fate of many dogs downrange. But as soon as the chopper took off, bounding around a corner were the mini-pack: Mama, K2 and the dog with no name.

Michael Cummings is a U.S. Army Captain currently attending training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd ABCT in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. He blogs at with his brother.

Capt. Michael Cummings