Every analyst I know is baffled by the Obama administration. The Israeli government is baffled; the Arab governments of the Middle East are baffled; European foreign ministries are baffled; and the journalists and thinktankers and camp-followers are baffled. One hears different things from source one consults; the more authoritative the source, the more confusing the result.
Many conjectures as to this state of affairs are possible. My best working hypothesis is that the administration is the simple reflection of the operating style of the president, whom I qualified as “the political equivalent of a sociopath” in a Feb. 26, 2008 analysis.
That might work for a campaign, but not for a government. Things are blowing up in Washington’s face, and will do so in an ever-more alarming fashion.
Israeli army video of the raid on the “Free Gaza Flotilla” should eliminate doubts that the commandos who boarded the Gaza-bound ships walked into a hornet’s nest. No matter how many live videos, empty pistol magazine, bloody knives, photographs of bullet wounds suffered by Israeli personnel, or other evidence that the Israelis might assemble, however, will not change matters. The fact remains that Turkey Islamist regime invited Hamas representatives to prepare a provocation precisely in order to charge Israel with a “war crime,” as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan did earlier today. There is a nearly inexhaustible pool of young Muslims who are willing to die to bring about an end to the Jewish State, whether by provocations that call into question Israel’s right to defend itself, or by suicide bombings, or other means.
Just how will the White House deal with this mess?
President Obama set the stage for such problems by making Israel the cuprit for war in the Middle East, first by blaming Israeli apartment construction in Jerusalem (as it happened in the no-man’s land of Ramat Shlomo which would remain in Israeli hands under any conceivable partition of the city), but most egregiously by voting for a UN resolution demanding that Israel open its nuclear facilities to international inspection.The US took the position that Israel rather than Iran is the nuclear offender in the Middle East, as a matter of black-and-white official results.
The administration’s behavior at the UN last week is baffling in its duplicity and incompetence. According to the Washington Times account,
On Friday, a U.S. delegation in New York voted to endorse a consensus document ending the 2010 review conference for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that calls for a conference in 2012 to discuss a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East.
The final document of the monthlong review conference calls on Israel to join the treaty, a move that would require Israel to disclose and then give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal. The document does not, however, make mention of Iran’s failure to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop the enrichment of uranium.
Because these diplomatic documents require a consensus of all nations at the conference, the United States, like any other NPT signatory, had an effective veto over the measure.
A statement issued late Friday evening from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem said the resolution calling for a 2012 conference was “deeply flawed and hypocritical.”
“It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation,” the statement goes on to say. “Yet the terrorist regime in Iran, which is racing to develop nuclear weapons and which openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map, is not even mentioned in the resolution.”
Just as astonishing is that once having voted for the offensive resolution, President Obama “deplored it” in a statement late Friday afternoon:
But later Friday, the White House issued separate statements from President Obama and National Security Adviser James L. Jones deploring the section of the agreement it said “singled out Israel.”
“The United States will not permit a conference or actions that could jeopardize Israel’s national security. We will not accept any approach that singles out Israel or sets unrealistic expectations. The United States’ long-standing position on Middle East peace and security remains unchanged, including its unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” Mr. Jones said.
“In this respect, the United States deplores the decision to single out Israel in the Middle East section of the NPT document,” he added.
What in Wonderland are Obama and Jones talking about? They voted for a resolution that they “deplore”?
Even sillier is the State Department claim that it fought hard to keep Israel out of the resolution, but failed to do so:
The U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, initially opposed singling out Israel.
A senior State Department official told The Times, “We did fight hard to get that language out of the final document.”
An Arab diplomat who worked on the language on the 2012 conference told The Times that the U.S. delegation sought to tie the conference to a concession from the conference to Iran.
“They did fight hard,” this diplomat said. “They were trying to have a balance between the language on Israel and the language on Iran. They were initially trying to link the two. The problem is that their case was weak. The language they were opposing for Israel was in the 2000 review conference.”
Why not vote against it, as the Bush administration did?
Off the record, the State Department is saying that Obama has given Israel “unprecedented guarantees” of some sort or other, according to Israel’s Ynet news:
State officials are trying to send calming messages following the US’s endorsement of a nuclear-free Middle East resolution advanced by the NPT conference, which named Israel as a country whose facilities must be placed under inspection.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received unequivocal guarantees from Obama for the State of Israel’s preservation of strategic and deterring abilities,” a senior State official said. “These assurances include a significant upgrade in the history of US-Israel relations in the line of strategic understandings.”
President Obama seems to believe that he cut Israel off the knees in public and then take it all back in a “deploring” statement while making private assurances that will make everybody happy. It is a bit like Yassir Arafat giving one speech in English and another in Arabic.
Obama seems to believe that he can curry favor in the Muslim world by voting for anti-Israel UN resolutions, while reassuring American Jews that he really is on Israel’s side, after all. Rahm Emanual was wheeled out earlier this month along with Middle East advisor Dennis Ross to stroke a group of rabbis assembled for this purpose, without, however, convincing anyone. Rahm Emanuel already is making private apologies for the behavior of his boss; after all, if he wants to get another job after leaving the White House, he cannot burn bridges with the Jewish political community whence he came. It isn’t working with American Jews; it surely isn’t working in the Arab world, where Obama’s approval numbers are dismal, according to Gallup results summarized by Daniel Pipes.
By every available yardstick Obama has failed to persuade Muslims of his bona fides, but he has persuaded them of American weakness. Turkey, a former American ally, not only conspires with Russia to sabotage sanctions against Iran, but positions itself as the patron of Hamas in order to compete with Iran. Evidently the Ankara Islamists, with their nostalgia for the old Ottoman Caliphate, feel obliged to compete with Iran from leadership of radical Islam.
My two-year-old characterization of Obama still appears the best conjecture to explain the administration’s flailing:
Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother’s milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practicing not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.
There is nothing mysterious about Obama’s methods. “A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his audience so that they will think they are as clever as he is,” wrote Karl Krauss. Americans are the world’s biggest suckers, and laugh at this weakness in their popular culture. Listening to Obama speak, Sinclair Lewis’ cynical tent-revivalist Elmer Gantry comes to mind, or, even better, Tyrone Power’s portrayal of a carnival mentalist in the 1947 film noire Nightmare Alley. The latter is available for instant viewing at Netflix, and highly recommended as an antidote to having felt uplifted by an Obama speech.
America has set the world on autopilot for a geopolitical catastrophe. Patriotic Americans should hope that Israel has the wherewithal and will to kneecap Iran before it acquires nuclear weapons and makes all of Western Asia unmanageable.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?