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Another Foreign Policy Gambit Goes Bad for Obama

This is rich — Obama promises to be “honest” with Israel. This is all about the settlements of course and our insistence that Israelis not expand existing dwellings on the West Bank and even in Jerusalem.  We are not being honest about the fact that there is no remotely viable “peace process.” Nor are we being honest about the looming nuclear threat from Iran and the foolishness of a talk, talk, talk process which has gone no where for the last five or so years. No, this is straight from the James Baker playbook: beat up on Israel and see what it brings.  But it is interesting that Israel is the only country exempt from the “don’t dictate, listen instead” Obama outreach plan. (Clearly the way to go for Israelis is shoot off some missiles during a presidential speech, grab an American journalist or two and denounce American “imperialism.” Then they might get the kid glove treatment.)

And now that the mask has been removed, the Obama administration may have a tough go of it. The public and Congress might not think too highly of the new bullying mode. Indeed, Ben Smith reports:

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

[. . .]

But even a key defender of Obama’s Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration’s definition of “settlement” to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel.

Other Democrats, in interviews with POLITICO, raised similar concerns. While few will defend illegal Jewish outposts on land they hope will be part of a Palestinian state, they question putting public pressure on Israel while — so far — paying less public attention to Palestinian terrorism and other Arab states’ hostility to Israel.

Smith notes the bipartisan nature of the backlash, although Republicans unconstrained by party loyalty (which mutes Democrats’ criticism of the president), have come out firing. (“And Republicans have been more sharply critical of the pressure on Israel.”) AIPAC, which has been doing its best to alter this alarming turn of events, has collected 329 signatures from members of Congress on a letter advising the Obama administration to proceed “closely and privately” rather than try to strong arm Israel in public.

Well, there were many of us who saw this coming. Some of us didn’t buy the “trust him on Israel” spin which has now proved embarrassingly wrong for his fellow Democrats. The question remains whether the Obama policy is sustainable in the face of realities in the Middle East (Peace process — what peace process?) and a political revolt at home. This may, like the ill-fated Guantanamo closing stunt, prove to be another foolish gambit that dissolves when confronted by domestic opinion and international realities.

For now, however, the president has decided that rather than do something about Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Russia he will throw some elbows at Israel. Other than alienating members of his own party, creating a breach with our closest ally in the region and signaling to hostile powers that he is less serious about their misbehavior than preventing home-building in the West Bank it is hard to see what can be accomplished by this.


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