I recently received an email from one of my dryopithecine Republican friends responding to the above list of President Obama’s pro-Israel accomplishments. It could have been written for a Psychology 101 textbook to illustrate the concept of cognitive dissonance:
President Obama has, to quote Jeffrey Goldberg, done nothing to stop the slaughter in Syria other than to increase the negativity of his adverbs. With Iran, he has failed to use the sanctioning powers given him by Congress, and opened loopholes in the sanctions that do exist, so that the Mullahs drive to get a nuclear weapon continues apace. Once can only wonder what his real intent is with Iran. His public statements on the subject have put more pressure on Israel not to defend itself, than to condemn the Mullahs for their nuclear drive. He has continued the military cooperation agreements originated by President Bush, but this is largely a function of the already existing closeness of the United States and Israeli military when he came into office. Had he attempted to stop this he knows there would have been an uproar in Congress that would have made the warm greeting given to Prime Minister Netanyahu last May sound like polite applause. He boycotted Durban conferences only after trying as hard as he could to appease the Israel haters. But their intransigence made it impossible for even a man with Obama’s antipathy to the Jewish state to send his representatives. His opposition to the Goldstone report came late and was tepid, he never made any significant public statement about it, he was mostly silent in response to the flotilla debacle, and only organized against the diplomatic crusade for a Palestinian State when it became obvious that opposition in America was overwhelming.
In other words, the facts of President Obama’s accomplishments are beyond dispute, but now we have a new standard, a standard the pro-Israel community has never applied to any other President: His record is irrelevant. What matters is what we imagine he might have done assuming our initial prejudice toward him was true and assuming the absence of countervailing pressure. And by that standard, he’s just as bad as we said he was all along! Or is he…
Let’s go one by one.
President Obama has imposed sanctions on Syria. What more should we do about Syria? Invade? Arm the rebels? (That’s what Romney seems to want, but that may not be what Israel wants.)
Remember the harsh criticism by Republican leaders of President Obama’s limited military intervention in Libya? (Gaddafi was removed without the loss of one American life; contrast Bush’s needless war in Iraq, which cost thousands of lives and bankrupted the economy.)
The Obama administration has imposed sanctions on more than 100 individuals and companies, as well as the government of Syria, its central bank, and government-owned oil companies.
President Obama has been as clear as anyone can be that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. President Obama has imposed, sometimes by Executive Order, the toughest sanctions ever against Iran. Not only that, but he has successfully marshaled an international effort to stop Iran. For much more on the President’s efforts to stop Iran, click here.
Contrast President Obama’s unequivocal statements that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable and that no options are off the table with the Bush administration’s obfuscation about whether progress on Iran should be tied to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The differences between the President and Congress on sanctions have mainly been the classic differences between any President and any Congress on foreign policy decision making. In other words, it was executive prerogative, stupid.
The level of military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States is unsurpassed. Israel’s Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, said in December of 2011 that “the unshakable bonds between Israel and America and their respective defense establishments under the guiding hand of President Barack Obama are stronger and deeper than ever and we are very thankful and appreciative of that.”
Barak said earlier in 2011 that “I’m the minister of defense, I can tell you… I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and backing and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” But what does Barak know? Maybe he’d have a more informed perspective if he lived in Highland Park or Deerfield.
It is true that the administration does not want Israel to attack Iran—does any sane person think that now is the time for the US or Israel to attack Iran? This op-ed from the Times of Israel explains why there is no way to know whether US comments about Israel bombing Iran reflect genuine disagreements or are orchestrated for effect.
Yet despite the stronger than ever ties between the US and Israel, our Republican friends are asking why Israel is not participating in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), as if the GCTF outweighs the unprecedented levels of cooperation between the US and Israel. The answer is simple. It’s the same reason Israel was not invited by the United States to participate in George H.W. Bush’s first war against Iraq and for the same reason George W. Bush did not include Israel in his list of Coalition Members for Operation Iraqi Freedom: the real world.
The GCTF benefits everyone, including the US and Israel. To get it off the ground and gain the participation of countries whose support is essential, Israel was not initially included. It’s important to remember that the complaints are coming not from Israel, but from Republicans here in the United States who see yet another opportunity to use Israel as a wedge issue. Do the Republicans really believe that it would have better not to have the GCTF at all than to start it now, begin making progress, and involve Israel over time?
Israel will benefit from the GCTF work regardless of whether it formally participates. Nevertheless, the State Department is committed to getting Israel involved and we will see evidence of this commitment in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the US continues to work closely with Israel on counterterrorism activities at all levels. And yes, the United States did specifically include Israel in the list of countries victimized by terrorism.
President Obama has done more than continued certain military agreements in existence during the Bush administration: He has expanded them. President Obama, not Congress, made the initial request for more Iron Dome funding. President Obama secretly sold Israel the bunker busting bombs for use against Iran that were denied by the Bush administration. For much more, read this July 15 op-ed from former Congressman Mel Levine, who was one of Israel’s best friends in Congress from either party.
If it is really true that President Obama could not have cut funding to Israel even if he had wanted to, then why were we told in 2008 that he’d do just that? Did the Republicans only just now discover how deep and strong bipartisan support for Israel is in Congress?
Presidents can indeed cut foreign aid. When Mitt Romney was asked about foreign aid in the Republican debates, he agreed with Rick Perry that the foreign aid budget should be zeroed out. Romney didn’t mention any memorandums of understanding or agreements between the US and Israel, although whether his silence was based on ignorance or guile is unclear.
Durban was a big disappointment for our Republican friends, coming so soon after Obama’s election. How they would have loved to have been proven right so soon. Of course the President did what he could to salvage Durban. Durban is a conference against racism. We are against racism, remember? But just as the President promised, he did not compromise. When his conditions were not met—and to his credit, he gave the Durban organizers opportunities to satisfy his conditions—the President stuck to his guns and did not participate.
The Obama administration opposed the report of the U.N. Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, popularly known as the Goldstone Report in reference to its author, Justice Richard Goldstone. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said, “The administration came out with a statement against Goldstone that was from our perspective just perfect - condemned it as a travesty of justice, upheld Israel’s right not just to defend itself but to investigate itself during its own military operations.”
The United States blocked demands at the UN security council for an international inquiry into Israel’s assault on the Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead and also blocked criticism of Israel for violating international law by assaulting a ship in international waters in the security council statement proposed by Turkey, the Palestinians and Arab nations. That’s tepid?
President Obama’s successful efforts to block Palestinian statehood at the UN is a tremendous diplomatic achievement. It was only a year ago that many thought UN recognition of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood was a foregone conclusion. There is no evidence whatsoever that President Obama acted because American public opinion opposed the measure. The vast majority of Americans do support Israel, but do the Republicans think that President Obama—the man they want us to think of as a cold, calculating politician—only realized that after he was elected?
The truth is that there is a partisan campaign to delegitimize President Obama in the eyes of pro-Israel voters by holding him to a double-standard, or in this case, an imagined standard. The good news is that all it takes for President Obama to again win the Jewish vote by overwhelming margins is an informed electorate.
Steve Sheffey is an NJDC guest blogger. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
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