Commentary Magazine


Topic: official United States policy

RE: Opposition to Obama’s Tactics Builds

The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:

While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.

Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.

Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”

These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious.  I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.

If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.

The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:

While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.

Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.

Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”

These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious.  I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.

If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.

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It Gets Worse

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – “personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – “personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

Read Less




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