As I noted in parts one and two of this post, there are good reasons to believe that tension between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will continue to simmer during their respective terms. The disconnect between the president’s view of the region and the consensus of the overwhelming majority of Israelis about the future of the peace process has created a gap between the two countries that continues to cause trouble. The fact that the two men don’t like each other also doesn’t help. But as I wrote, the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace on the one hand and the determination of the Iranians to push toward their goal of a nuclear weapon may render the disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem moot.
But even if we don’t assume, as I think we should, that Israel’s enemies will continue to force the United States and Israel into the same corner whether the president likes it or not, there is another important factor that will also put a limit on how far any quarrel can go: the overwhelming support for Israel among the American people. As much as some in the administration and its cheerleaders on the left may believe that the “Jewish lobby,” as President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense put it, has too much influence, the fact remains that the U.S.-Israel alliance remains a consensus issue in this country. As we have seen over the past two years, no president, not even one as personally popular as Barack Obama, can afford to ignore it or blow it up.
Paul Krugman is in a channeling frenzy in today’s column, entitled “The Dwindling Deficit.” His inner Alfred E. Neuman says, ‘What, me worry?”:
The budget deficit isn’t our biggest problem, by a long shot. Furthermore, it’s a problem that is already, to a large degree, solved. The medium-term budget outlook isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either — and the long-term outlook gets much more attention than it should.
Who knew? He argues that economic recovery will raise federal revenues and decrease such costs as unemployment and food stamps. That’s usually true enough, except we’ve been in “recovery” since June 2009 and it hasn’t helped yet. Budget deficits for the last four fiscal years were $1.41 trillion (2009), $1.29 trillion, $1.3 trillion, and $1.08 trillion.
As I wrote in part one of this post the all but certain prospect that Benjamin Netanyahu will be re-elected prime minister of Israel next week will be viewed with dismay by President Obama. But the assumption that four more years of the Barack-Bibi show will worsen relations between the two countries may be exaggerated for three reasons. The first was, as I wrote in part one, the very real possibility that Obama may have learned his lesson about trying to pressure the Israelis in order to entice the Palestinians to make peace. It hasn’t worked and probably never will and though the president may think Netanyahu is wrong, he would have to be an incorrigible ideologue to want to waste any scarce political capital on more fights with Israel over the peace process when he knows it will lead nowhere.
The second factor that might act as a brake on U.S.-Israel tension is Iran. There is more than a little irony in this. Disagreements between the United States and Israel over the timetable of Iranian nuclear progress, the futility of diplomacy and the ultimate necessity of an attack have divided the two governments for years. Many assume, not without reason, that the president’s reluctance to get tough with Iran (a belief bolstered by his nomination of a new secretary of defense in Chuck Hagel that previously opposed both sanctions and the possibility of using force against Iran) will only make things worse in the future as Israel gears up for the possibility of having to forestall a nuclear Iran if the United States won’t. But as much as this issue appears to be the one which will do the most to escalate tension between Washington, there is also the very real possibility that Iran’s refusal to negotiate seriously and its determination to push ahead toward its nuclear goal will leave the president little choice but to work with Israel to eliminate the threat.
I thought I might be breaking a little news this afternoon, but others beat me to it yesterday. For those who haven’t heard, today is my last day at Commentary before I start at the Washington Free Beacon next week. When John Podhoretz brought me on board to write for Contentions, I had no idea how quickly the next two years would go by and how many incredible opportunities and experiences they would bring. It has been a thrill and a privilege to write for an outlet that had such a formative influence on my political views, and continued to shape them during my time at Contentions.
I can’t thank John enough for his kindness and support, and Jonathan Tobin for his daily editorial guidance, advice and encouragement. It has also been great to learn from and write alongside our phenomenal Contentions contributors.
I also want to thank our readers for sharing a part of your busy days with me. Your comments have often provided valuable insight, wit and inspiration. Perhaps the most rewarding part of this job has been watching the vibrant Contentions community grow over the last couple of years.
This isn’t goodbye. I know many of you are also Free Beacon readers, and look forward to hearing from you when I start there next week. I’ll be joining my friends on the news staff who have been scooping the mainstream outlets and striking fear into the hearts of White House officials for the past year. While my role there will be a different than it was at Contentions — reporting without writing opinion — my commitment to advancing the cause of freedom won’t change.
And of course, this isn’t goodbye to my colleagues. I’ll always consider myself a part of the Commentary family. Thank you for everything.
The final polls before Israel’s election were published today and the results will provide little comfort to Benjamin Netanyahu’s many critics in the United States. All the surveys of opinion before next Tuesday’s vote point in one direction: Netanyahu will win. Even the most pessimistic estimates of his party’s vote shows the Likud getting approximately twice as many seats in the next Knesset as the next largest competitor and the parties that make up Netanyahu’s current coalition will gain a decisive majority. Netanyahu will be in charge of a comfortable majority that is, if anything, more right-wing than the government he led for the past four years.
That’s a bitter pill for an Obama administration that believes, as the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported earlier this week, that the president knows what is in Israel’s “best interests” better than Netanyahu and which spent much of its time in office battling him. It makes sense to think the two leaders will continue to distrust each other and to quarrel over the peace process and how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. The rightward tilt of the next Netanyahu government and what appears to be the aggressive and confident tone of the second Obama administration in which the president appears to be surrounding himself with people who agree with him rather than centrists or those who have different perspectives both seem to argue for more rather than less conflict between Washington and Jerusalem. But the doom and gloom scenarios about four more years of this tandem may be exaggerated. There are three good reasons that may serve to keep tensions from boiling over.
On the heels of reports that the American Future Fund is launching an anti-Hagel ad campaign, another conservative group has announced it will also run ads opposing the Secretary of Defense nominee. Americans for a Strong Defense, a newly formed group led by former Romney aides, says it will specifically target vulnerable Senate Democrats. Politico reports:
A group of Republican strategists is forming a new outside group aimed at thwarting Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary, with a plan to air TV ads and to have people on the ground in the states of key senators to apply pressure in advance of his confirmation hearing.
Americans for a Strong Defense will be the latest group to hit Hagel from the right. As POLITICO reported yesterday, the well-funded American Future Fund is launching a multistate ad campaign against Hagel, and the William Kristol-founded Emergency Committee for Israel has already aired cable ads in Washington arguing the former Nebraska senator is weak on Iran and in his support for Israel. …
The group’s officials acknowledged that Hagel is a Vietnam veteran and war hero, but made clear they will paint him as “outside the mainstream” on key defense issues.
Among the senators the group will pressure to oppose Hagel are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. All of those Democrats are up for reelection in 2014.
The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.
Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.
Reports out of Algeria are still sketchy but it appears that Algerian security forces attacked the Islamist group holding hostages at a gas plant near the Libyan border—and in the process killed a number of hostages along with hostage-takers.
This is not exactly how the United States, Britain, Israel, France or other Western nations would approach a hostage crisis. The security forces in all those countries would seek a resolution that would be most likely to leave the hostages unharmed and plan an attack only if there was absolutely no alternative or if there was actionable intelligence which suggested a good chance to free the hostages. See, for instance, the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama that ended with Navy SEAL snipers taking out the hostage takers and freeing the captain, Richard Phillips.
The Algerians, by contrast, appear to have blundered in, guns blazing. This should not be particularly surprising since (a) Algeria is not a democracy and (b) it has long cultivated a ruthless style of counterinsurgency. During the war pitting Algerian security forces against Muslim militants (including the predecessors of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the 1990s, an estimated 100,000 or more people died as a result of the indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics employed by both sides.