The Obama administration is reportedly furious with Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, for publishing a behind-the-scenes account of U.S.-Israeli relations during the early portion of President Obama’s administration. Suffice to say, the Oren memoir did not stick to Obama administration talking points.
The umbrage that Obama administration officials and the State Department take is just a bit hypocritical. After all, multiple Obama administration officials were veterans of earlier administrations and, during the Republican interlude, wrote books. For example, former George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administration diplomat Dennis Ross castigated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in The Missing Peace, his 2004 memoir of behind-the-scenes efforts to win Palestinian-Israeli peace. For example, he wrote for just one example, “What went wrong? To put it simply, Netanyahu was not willing to concede anything.” Never mind Yasser Arafat’s terrorism and two-faced behavior; it was Netanyahu’s fault. How awkward, then, it must have been to return to Obama’s National Security Council to work on Middle East issues after having badmouthed Netanyahu, who had also returned to office in the meantime.
Not all indiscretions emerge in book form. Martin Indyk, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, served as the Obama administration’s Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations from 2013 to 2014, after having earlier served in the Clinton administration as an assistant secretary of State. In between his two stints in government, Indyk penned a book openly badmouthing Netanyahu, whom he compared to a “winter’s chill” before the “spring warmth” of Ehud Barak’s election. Indyk, who in his capacity with Brookings had accepted Qatari money before and after his government service, wasted little time bashing Netanyahu openly, on background, and with little discretion.
Then there was Samantha Power. Years before she became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she called for a U.S. military invasion of Israel. Awkward. The badmouthing goes further. There were Obama’s open-mic insults, and the Netanyahu-baiting offered on background to de facto administration stenographer Jeffrey Goldberg.
Indeed, while the White House and State Department might now treat Oren with opprobrium, it has been the Obama administration that has taken elementary school playground name-calling to a new level. During their initial presidential and vice presidential election campaign, both Obama and Joe Biden repeatedly badmouth Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Now, there is much to criticize with regard to Karzai, but the two never considered that Karzai would read every insult they hurled; the working relationship never recovered.
Should Oren have written about his experiences so directly and so soon after his tenure? It’s indiscreet and a tad obnoxious, but Obama and his aides must remember that those who live in glass houses should not have thrown stones in the first place. Such memoirs are a phenomenon of democratic political culture. But, then again, that may be what Obama most resents.