Commentary Magazine


Rigid Ideologies and Old Formulas

In a must-read critique of the Obama approach to Israel, Elliott Abrams attempts to piece together how we got from the warmest relationship with Israel in recent memory to the most hostile. Yes, part of it is the perceived desire by Obama to affect regime change in Israel. But it’s worse than that:

The deeper problem — and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions — is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

While Israel faces an existential threat, Obama wants to engage a regime that shows no sign of willingness to engage with us. Stall maybe; engage no. Obama obsesses over the settlements but ignores the very real progress made economically on the West Bank. (Ironically, this was the very sort of progress Dennis Ross, after absorbing the lessons of Camp David’s failures, declared was the only reasonable road forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) Abrams writes:

It is, once again, about the subordination of reality to pre-existing theories. In this case, the theory is that every problem in the Middle East is related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The administration takes the view that “merely” improving life for Palestinians and doing the hard work needed to prepare them for eventual independence isn’t enough. Nor is it daunted by the minor detail that half of the eventual Palestine is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

The takeaway here is deeply sobering. Ideologues don’t accept new evidence or recognize that their theories aren’t bearing fruit. Failures are always attributed to a lack of time or effort. We simply have to keep at it, we will be told. That does not bode well for a course correction. They have their worldview, and they are sticking with it.

So don’t expect much to change so long as the Obama team “attributes every problem in the region to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while all who live there can see that developments in Iran are in fact the linchpin of the region’s future.” And don’t expect the Obama team to admit error or reverse course. For people who have decried, as Hillary Clinton put it, “rigid ideologies and old formulas,” they are, for the foreseeable future, sticking with theirs.

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