You might have thought you heard President Obama dismissing Israeli concerns about Iranian nukes as “noise” on 60 Minutes last night. But according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, what you really heard was Obama professing his deep and unwavering affection for Israel, his his best friend in the world:
“The president was making clear that his commitment and this country’s commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is as strong as ever and unbreakable in nature,” Carney said. “There’s obviously a lot of noise around this issue at times. His point was clearly that his objective is to take every step possible to enhance Israel’s security as part of our strong relationship with Israel. It is demonstrated by the unprecedented level of cooperation this administration has had with Israel on matters of defense and security.”
Carney’s explanation bears little resemblance to what Obama actually said, but it doesn’t matter — we expect the press to report this uncritically, then lose interest in the story until it’s time to “fact-check” a Republican for taking Obama’s remarks “out of context.”
Speaking of which, several Romney surrogates took Obama to task for the “noise” comment today. On a conference call with reporters, Rep. Eric Cantor said he was stunned Obama suggested that Israel wasn’t our closest ally in the Middle East (via NRO):
Reacting to President Obama’s comment in his 60 Minutes interview last night, when Obama referred to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the region,” House majority leader Eric Cantor criticized Obama for showing a lack of regard for Israel.
“That took me off guard,” Cantor said of Obama’s remark in a conference call with reporters organized by the Romney campaign, “because I think clearly most Americans would say Israel is undoubtedly our best ally in the region, the one who stands for the same things that we do, and that is, human progress, universal rights, rights of the minority, rights of free speech, and downright democracy and freedom.”
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton also sent out a press statement criticizing Obama:
“President Obama recently characterized Israel’s concern about the prospect of a nuclear Iran as ‘noise,’ and, to add insult to injury, knocked Israel down a notch to simply ‘one of our closest allies in the region.’ But the fact of the matter is that Israel is without a doubt our closest and most reliable ally in the region. Its concerns about an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon aren’t simply noise; they are central not only to self-preservation and security, but also to peace. These comments offer just the latest indication that President Obama doesn’t fully grasp the seriousness of the foreign policy challenges facing our nation.”
Obama supporters may just think his “noise” remark was a case of poorly-chosen words, but it’s actually very revealing. If Obama had just said he was going to focus on doing what’s right for the American people, and left it at that, that would have been fine. Even if he had added that he was going to “block out any other factors,” it wouldn’t have caused such an outcry. The term “noise” is derisive; it suggests that Israel’s concerns are both irritating and unimportant, that they’re not a legitimate part of the debate. That, in addition to Obama’s mild criticism of Iran and reference to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the Middle East,” was what made his comment so troubling. The Romney campaign has rightly seized on it, but we’ll see if the media gives Obama yet another pass.