During the 2008 presidential election, as skeptics of Barack Obama questioned his support for Israel, his campaign, with help from media allies, pursued an aggressive counteroffensive. The strategy was to delegitimize reasonable criticism of Obama’s record by lumping it together with zany conspiracy theories from fringe figures and anonymous Internet commenters.
Weeks before the election, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a post titled, “Dear Jews: Stop the Obama Paranoia.” He urged, “all you rumor-mongering, fever-headed Jewish conspiracists: Support McCain, if you want, and there are credible reasons for doing so, but stop smearing Obama in the face of overwhelming evidence that the man is a great friend of Jews and of Israel. After a point, it becomes obvious that what you fear is not Israel’s destruction, but the presence of an African-American in the White House. And that’s disgusting.”
But critics of Obama have unfortunately been vindicated. For six years, the administration has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward its long-standing U.S. ally while bending over backwards to make concessions to an anti-American regime in Iran. And this week, Goldberg is out with a new article, quoting a senior Obama administration official who referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a chickenshit.” It was both juvenile and absurd, but a natural progression of Obama’s policy toward Israel.
Defenders of Obama are eager to draw a distinction between being anti-Israel and simply disliking Netanyahu, whom they regard as obstinate. This is difficult to square with the threat that the administration may now “withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations.” Moreover, the distinction doesn’t excuse Obama’s calculated strategy of taking a more belligerent attitude toward Israel.
In the early months of his presidency, Obama criticized George W. Bush’s posture toward the Jewish state, arguing that “during those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”
Acting consistently with his worldview, Obama immediately chastised Jews for building homes around Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem, focusing on the issue as if it were the biggest obstacle to Middle East peace. Obama and top administration officials have since pointed the finger at Jewish housing construction whenever the peace process has stalled.
This has been so even as they have held up Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a real peace partner, despite his history of Holocaust denial and support for terrorism, his rejection of the key tenets of the administration’s proposed peace “framework,” and the fact that he has no real authority to implement any significant concessions even if he actually agreed to them, because of the dominance of the terrorist group Hamas.
Despite his campaign promises to the contrary, the Obama administration has pursued talks with Hamas, even as the terrorists launch rockets and dig terror tunnels for murderous raids against civilians — and the group clings to its goal of exterminating Israel. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been excoriated for refusing to agree to demands by the Obama administration that would put Israeli security at risk in the face of these threats. Netanyahu was portrayed as “a chickenshit” by the administration not only for lacking the political courage to side with Obama and Abbas over the Israeli public that elected him, but also for actually trusting the administration’s reassurances about Iran’s nuclear program.
Back in 2012, in full re-election campaign mode, Obama declared in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “I have Israel’s back.” He urged Israel to have patience to let sanctions against Iran work.
Yet the anonymous administration official quoted by Goldberg boasted that Netanyahu was essentially suckered by Obama into holding off on an attack that could have prevented Iran from becoming a nuclear power. “It’s too late for him to do anything,” the official said. “Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”
This statement has reverberations that go far beyond Israel. The administration is signaling to allies, from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and beyond, that they cannot trust U.S. security guarantees. The message being sent is that if allies take Obama at his word and follow his advice, Obama will not only betray them, but they will be mocked and humiliated for actually believing him.
The policy of trashing a staunch democratic ally committed to fighting Islamic extremism, while fostering closer ties to Iran, a leading state sponsor of terrorism, is a moral outrage. If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it will hold the entire region at the mercy of its radical agenda, expand its terrorism operations, continue to abuse human rights with impunity and threaten millions of Jews in Israel with annihilation. But even if one puts morality aside and discards idealistic notions about defending U.S. values abroad — even, in other words, from the perspective of realpolitik — it is hard to see Obama’s Middle East strategy as anything but an abysmal failure.
Creating more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel did not make a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians any more likely. Instead, Obama earned America the distrust of both sides, and no deal is remotely within reach as Palestinians push unilateral statehood. The administration did not earn the U.S. friends in the Arab world. Instead, Arab nations have been alarmed by Obama’s passivity amid the growing power of Islamic extremism and the increasing prospect of a nuclear Iran, which could trigger a nuclear arms race involving Sunni-dominated Arab nations in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And the administration certainly isn’t making the prospect of a nuclear Iran any less likely.
Iran’s economy is showing signs of improvement as a result of sanctions relief granted by the Obama administration. Obama’s negotiators have moved toward the Iranians’ positions on uranium enrichment, plutonium development, and its missile program. The deal being struck with the mullahs is so bad for the U.S. that Obama is already preparing to bypass Congress and lift sanctions unilaterally. He knows that there would be little appetite for doing so among lawmakers. These are the same sanctions that passed with near-unanimous bipartisan support in an era that has otherwise been associated with deep partisanship.
Having repeatedly warned about Obama’s foreign policy both generally and with regard to Israel, his critics have been sadly vindicated. But the consequences of this president’s reprehensible and ineffective approach to world affairs are too dangerous to allow us to take any pleasure in saying we told you so.