President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.
Here’s the quote:
I asked the president whether he was worried about Israel.
“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades,” he answered. “To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people. And because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival. … I think the question really is how does Israel survive. And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions. How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel. And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians. … You have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well.”
It’s nice that the president admires Israel’s achievements. But his complacence about its military achievements combined with his patronizing concern about its democratic and civic traditions is the sort of left-handed compliment that tells us more about his animosity for the Jewish state’s government than his fidelity to the alliance between the two allies. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that the subtext of these comments—Hamas’s genocidal intentions and Iran’s nuclear ambitions—make Obama’s blasé confidence about Israel’s ability to defend itself deeply worrisome.
The president is, of course, right to note that Israel has a formidable military. In particular, Israel’s dedication to technological advances such as the Iron Dome missile defense system have both saved many lives in the last month’s fighting with Hamas and provided a substantial long-range benefit to its American security partner. But his complacency about its security situation is hardly reassuring.
Israel remains under siege by hostile neighbors in the form of terrorist states on both its northern (Hezbollah) and southern borders. Both remain committed not just to Israel’s destruction but also the genocide of its Jewish population. While Israel is in no current danger of military defeat, the spectacle of Hamas forcing the majority of Israelis in and out of bomb shelters for a month encouraged the Islamists and their supporters to believe their cause is not yet lost. The fact that their efforts are being cheered on by a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism fueled by hatred of Israel also ought to leave any true friend of Israel worried.
Even more to the point, the principal sponsor of those terror groups—Iran—is working hard to gain nuclear capability, a (to use Obama’s own phrase) “game changing” factor that could destabilize the entire Middle East, threaten the security of the U.S. as well as endanger Israel’s existence. But despite paying rhetorical lip service to the effort to stop Iran, Obama has spent the last years hell-bent on pursuing détente with Tehran. The weak interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. last fall undermined the sanctions that had cornered the Iranians and discarded virtually all of the West’s leverage. If the Iranians are currently playing hard to get in the current round of negotiations (now in the equivalent of soccer’s injury time as the deadline promised by Obama for talks has been extended), it is because they know the president’s zeal for a deal (and an excuse to abandon his campaign promises to stop Iran) outweighs his common sense or his resolve.
The bulk of Friedman’s interview with Obama concentrated on the disaster in Iraq and related troubles. But here, as with many domestic problems and scandals, the president’s priority is to absolve himself and his policies. The world is, he seems to be constantly telling us, a complex and confusing place where all of our possible choices are bad. There’s some truth to that, especially in places like Syria and Iraq. But what comes across most in his account of America’s declining affairs is that this is a president who is overwhelmed by events and has little understanding of them. The best he can do is to spew clichés about his bad options and to blame others.
Obama’s chief whipping boy in the Middle East is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the world leader with whom he has quarreled the most in his years in office. Despite the events of the last month that have proved again that any territory Israel hands to the Palestinians will become a terror base, Obama continues to obsess about the need for Netanyahu to make territorial concessions that will create the possibility of, as the Israeli says, 20 Gazas in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of Israelis reject such mad advice but Obama dismisses their common sense as merely being a case of a lack of vision. Despite his talk about supporting Israeli democracy he has been doing everything possible to thwart the will of Israel’s voters by undermining Netanyahu. Israelis want peace but understand that subjecting themselves to terror governments won’t bring the conflict to a close.
Obama also believes that the obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t Hamas. This conveniently ignores the fact that it is Hamas that plunged the region into war and whose hold on power there is being guaranteed by American pressure on Israel to restrain its counter-attacks on Islamist rocket fire and terror tunnels. The problem is, Obama says, that Netanyahu is “too strong” and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is “too weak.” That explains Obama’s constant attacks on Israel and his praise for the feckless—and powerless—Abbas. If he were serious about supporting democracy, he’d be wary of the autocratic Abbas and his corrupt PA gang and understand that asking Israel to further empower a Palestinian leadership that won’t make peace is not the act of a friend.
Even if we take the president’s assurances of his friendship for Israel at face value, this interview confirms what has been obvious since January 2009. This is a president who believes Israel’s security is not his priority or even a particular concern. Rather, he wants to save Israel from itself and acts as if it has not already made several offers of peace that have been consistently turned down by the Palestinians. Though Obama is right that Israelis won’t allow their country to be destroyed, his apathy about the deadly threats it faces from Iran and its terrorist proxies, cheered by a chorus of anti-Semitic haters, does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. The world has gotten less safe on his watch. The Israeli objects of his pressure tactics do well to ignore his advice. Friedman’s interview gives those who do care about the Jewish state’s future even more reasons to worry.
Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at TobinCommentary.