Among the hot-button issues in the November elections, support for Israel will figure prominently. But the issue is not Israel, and surely not the eventual construction of apartments in East Jerusalem. It is the Administration’s neglect or sabotage of vital security interests of the United States.
Erstwhile supporters of President Obama are shocked—shocked—to discover that President Obama wants to appease Iran and intimidate Israel. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith pronounced himself “shocked and stunned at the administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem,” adding, “We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States.”
US-Israeli relations are the least of the problem. As the Associated Press reported March 15, “Since the controversy erupted, a bipartisan parade of influential lawmakers and interest groups has taken aim at the administration’s decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting on Tuesday and then openly vent bitter frustration on Friday.”
In fact, American sympathy for Israel is close to its all-time peak (only exceeded during the First Gulf War), a Gallup poll concluded in late February.
Even more to the point, independents’ sympathy for Israel stands at an all-time high of 60 percent (with Republicans at 85 percent), while Democrats’ support remains roughly unchanged.
It is easy for Republicans to chide the Administration for taking an inappropriately hostile tone for an American ally popular with the public. But the real scandal in American foreign policy, and the Administration’s point of greatest vulnerability, is continued appeasement of the Iranian regime despite Tehran’s open contempt for American overtures, and commitment to developing nuclear weapons.
On this issue the poll numbers are just as lopsided. Sixty percent of respondents in a March 2 Fox News poll said they believed force would be required to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while only 25 percent believe that diplomacy and sanctions will work. Fifty-one percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans polled favored the use of force. Obama’s job approval for handling Iran was at only 41 percent, with 42 percent disapproving.
The president’s approval rating would be considerable lower if voters were well informed about the extent to which American policy has groveled before the Islamic Republic.
First of all, Obama’s rancor towards Israel has little to do with apartments in Jerusalem and everything to do with discouraging Israel from striking Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity. As the Israeli daily Ha’Aretz reported March 3, Sen. John Kerry told a press conference in Israel that the purpose of Biden’s visit to Israel, and that of other senior administration officials, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, aims at restraining Israel against the possibility of unilaterally attacking Iran.
In response to a question on whether the U.S. is concerned about the possibility of such Israeli action, he said that “the prime minister is more than aware through his conversations with the Secretary of State and the President himself, as well as just through his own common sense—I think he is very tuned in to not being rash or jumping the gun here or doing something that doesn’t give those other opportunities a chance.’”
The Administration, in other words, is twisting the arm of America’s principal Middle East ally to prevent Israel from doing what an overwhelming majority of the American public wants America to do in any event. Obama proposes pressure on Iran, so long as it is not effective. “It is not our intent to have crippling sanctions that have a significant impact on the Iranian people,” said a State Department spokesman Feb. 25. “Our actual intent is to find ways to pressure the government while protecting the people.”
While pursuing a lukewarm and ineffective sanctions strategy—which most Americans consider futile—Washington has openly offered Iran an expanded regional role, including influence in Afghanistan, despite the Tehran regime’s longstanding support for the Taliban. Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was received as a friend by Afghanistan’s President Karzai in Kabul March 10. Karzai’s Vice President, the Northern Alliance leader Mohammed Fahim, met the Iranian leader at the airport.
The United States responded to Ahmadinejad’s Afghan visit by paying obeisance to Iran’s influence. “The future of Afghanistan has a regional dimension and we hope that Iran will play a more constructive role in Afghanistan in the future,” said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. He added in the past, the US and Iran have “cooperated constructively” and hoped that they would do so again, given that Iran has “a legitimate interest in the future of Afghanistan”.
The administration, meanwhile, has attempted to court Syria, returning the American ambassador (withdrawn in 2005 after Syria arranged the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri), and sending a parade of senior State Department officials to Damascus. Syrian President Bashir Assad responded by inviting Ahmadinejad to Tehran and ridiculing American efforts to separate Syrian and Iran. Standing next to the Iranian leader, Assad said of Washington, “I am really surprised how they talk about stability in the Middle East, peace and other beautiful principles and they call two countries, any two countries and not necessarily Syria and Iran, to keep distance.”
Added Ahmadinejad: “(The Americans) want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that. We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.”
Turkey, the only NATO member in the region, has taken Iran’s side against the United States—not a surprising outcome given the reluctance of the American side to assert its own interests.
Meanwhile, the clock ticks away for Iranian nuclear weapons development. In the view of America’s Arab allies in the Persian Gulf, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s talk of an America “defense umbrella” for the Gulf States was a de facto admission that American anticipated that Iran would succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons.
Edited into bullet points for attack ads, these instances of White House fecklessness will eat deeply into Democratic support in the November elections. Obama’s obsession with mollifying a hostile and dangerous regime exceeds the intelligible boundaries of political sentiment. He is at odds with essential American security interests and with the healthy common sense of the American public. Fortunately, America is a democracy. The remedy is to hammer this home to the voters between now and November.
David P. Goldman is senior editor of First Things.