Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | November 14, 2010

Shallow, Sophomoric, and Appalling

As a rule, I prefer to avoid language that can be read as hyperbole. But if this story in the Jerusalem Post is accurate (h/t: The Muqata), the Obama administration has committed negotiation “diplomacy” of the most cynical and transparently calculating kind.  It’s not just evidence of a breach of faith with an ally, moreover:  it’s a stupid negotiating tactic.  It suggests that a US national position, one that should be unchanging, is for sale.

In brief, JPost says the Israelis were told this weekend that if they would agree to a 90-day freeze in settlement construction, the US would commit to giving them 20 new fighter jets and supporting their national integrity, with vetoes if necessary, in the UN – for the next year.

The import of the latter “promise” – unfortunately, scare quotes are appropriate here – is growing, with the threat that the UN will consider peremptory, non-negotiated declaration of a Palestinian state. As John Bolton wrote in October, this threat is a real one, and the Obama administration could very well respond by abstaining from any Security Council vote on the matter.  To coin a phrase: You know in your heart he’s right.  Barack “Vote Present” Obama is exactly the president to make that happen.

The ugly, cynical faithlessness of this move can hardly be overstated.  Whether Israel, as a sovereign nation, has the irreducible right to negotiate her own borders is the kind of bedrock principle on which the US position should be firm and unmovable.  The moment it is not – the moment it is put up for sale or made into a bargaining chip – we abandon our position in world leadership and become just another calculating nation, jockeying for factional advantage and partisan prizes.

Nations that operate in this fashion usually end up putting the squeeze on their own allies.  That’s what Obama is doing here, if the JPost report is correct.  He is using the prospect of a conditional US guarantee to gain a concession from Israel – with the implied threat that if the concession is not made, there will be no guarantee.  What kind of ally does that make us?  An undesirable, unreliable, and counterproductive one, for starters.

I have written here about the significance of the settlements in Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – to Israel’s security.  The factors in that assessment haven’t changed.  Israel is not being stupidly recalcitrant about the settlements.  What she cannot do is allow the negotiating process itself to wring concession after concession from her, as a condition of merely talking with the Palestinian Arabs, and with no concrete commitments from the Arabs in return.  In short order, this dynamic would become an effective veto over Israel’s national security: an attritional diplomatic campaign against Israel’s ability to defend territory.  Israel can’t rationally agree to the implications of this approach.

Whether the Obama administration is coming at this with full recognition of that truth or not, its move here is high-handed and cynical.  It is also shortsighted to an absurd degree.  Apparently, Obama really does see Israel as a special case, one to which the norms of international conduct and understandings don’t apply.  But other nations – namely, our allies in the G-20 and NATO – will immediately recognize that what applies to Israel could apply to them, and everyone’s borders and national security arrangements could be up for grabs.  Russia, China, India, Japan; Arab nations with which we have agreements and partnerships in the Middle East; even our NATO allies Spain, Greece, and Turkey – all have border disputes and/or disaffected ethnic groups and insurgencies seeking new borders and even separate nationhood.

As much as they complain and yammer at us, these nations have all relied on the US, over the years, to uphold the principle of respect for recognized nationhood and the sovereignty of fellow UN members.  Sure, it’s been a luxury for them to both benefit from and complain about our adherence to principle in this regard.  They’ve behaved like inconsistent adolescents on many occasions.  But seriously, Americans:  get over it.  It’s better to be the adult.  With the move reported by JPost, Obama is abandoning the principled adult consistency that entitles a nation to leadership.

That consistent posture, backed with latent force, has been worth a dozen military actions or more since the end of World War II.  Here is what Obama has done with his move this weekend: he has signaled to the world that if Israel doesn’t agree to the 90-day settlement freeze, one of the other four veto-equipped members of the Security Council may well have to be the adult and take order to the G-77 tantrum – peremptory declaration of a Palestinian state – looming in the UN.

Of the four – Britain, France, Russia, China – are you excited about the prospect of any of them donning this mantle?  Do you expect them to exercise its privileges with any degree of impartial principle?  For that matter, can any of them, acting individually, enforce a veto?  The answer is no: taking order to eruptions from the UN is either done by the US, or it will require alliances among others that are increasingly to America’s disadvantage.

There is no sugar-coating it: the action reported by JPost is one of the dumbest things a US administration has ever done.  If we are lucky, Team Obama will think better of it and back off quietly in a day or so.  Objectively, Israel would be setting an evil precedent by agreeing to it; I can hardly see Netanyahu doing so.  We can be thankful for that.  But if this ultimatum gets legs – if it becomes a real decision point for either Israel or the US – that itself will set in motion a chain of events that will do incalculable damage to the international order.  Israel can, in the short term, find another patron or patrons who see the value in affirming her sovereign national rights.  But if she has to, the position of the US and the order that hinges on it will be lost.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JT, J.E. Dyer. J.E. Dyer said: Shallow, Sophomoric, and Appalling: My latest at TOC on terrible, horrible Obama move against Israel… […]

  2. If indeed this report is true, it reinforces my belief that Obama is a JV player in a varsity game. Aren’t there a couple of adults in the administration that can pull Obama aside and straighten him out here (Clinton, Gates)?

    Maybe Obama is enamored with the views of his pal Khalidi and truly sees the Palestinians as the good guys and the Israelis as the bad guys.

  3. Sounds like Chicago style negotiations to me – structured like the sort of offer and compensation Blago and Rahm probably exchanged back when Obama’s vacated Senate seat was for sale.

  4. Of course Obama sees the Palestinians as the (colored) victims and the Israelis as the (white) oppressors. It’s also very likely that he hates Netanyahu’s guts. I mention this because I believe Obama is a product of the 80s Left, rather than the 60s Left–the 80s Left, for example was obsessed with entering institutions and changing their rationales in a way the 60s Left wasn’t. The 80s was also when they began treating the media as a war zone, and Netanyahu, as Israeli Ambassador to the US for a period, was often on the Sunday morning news shows with Obama’s teachers and friends, Said and Khalidi. The virulent hatred they held for Netanyahu (who invariably ran rings around them) was vividly evident, and they no doubt transmitted same to Obama.

    In short, we are finding out how crazy the Left is–they were, in essence, locked in the closet, stewing in universities, think tanks and impotent “movements” for 25 years (1981-2006), making big plans and plotting revenge, and then they were suddenly let loose on the nation. Obama is all that.

    • If indeed the Left started treating the media as a war zone in the 80s, I wonder if the reason is that the 80s was when the air waves got freed and conservative talk shows and other conservative media finally was able to see the light of day.

      • Yes, that’s a big part of it–the 80s, in leftspeak, was the age of the “backlash”: Reagan and Limbaugh were part of a backlash against presumably consensual liberal reforms which nevertheless threatened certain “privileged” interests which were able to use demagoguery to bring along a majority to overturn them. The advantage of referring to a “backlash” is that it made the Left itself an apparent defender of legitimate institutions and principles under assault. It was then that the Left begin constructing the shadow legitimacy that has come to fruition recently–media “watchdog” groups, various “civil rights” organizations, the environmentalists who have wormed their way into the bureaucracies, and, above all, the entire virtual international human rights regime, which has managed to present itself as an authoritative source of acceptable international behavior. This shadow legitimacy is why, on virtually any question, in virtually any controversy, the Left will be able to hide behind a quotation or impressive sounding statistic from a respectable sounding institution.

  5. “What kind of ally does that make us?”

    It makes us a putz. (It’s a technical term.)

    And don’t think there is any doubt that Obama favors the Palestinians against the Israelis.

  6. This is profoundly ignorant post, but well titled.

    The political dynamic both within and around Israel is completely ignored and/or not understood.

    Our relationship to the Israelis is ignored. Someone who is fond of using the term “hegemon” ought to be able to understand the implications.

    • You’ve been very negative lately. Do you need a hug or something?

      • new drumsticks would be nice. I broke one yesterday and am filled with self-doubt since.

        but the negativity within this post, as well as some others, is the origin.

        the opticon has taken to decrying the end of civilization agin and agin. Thirty yobs burn poppies and it’s “Ha’e England Fallen?”

        California holds bi-annual elections and the Disappointed Dyer cries Doom.

        Netanyahu’s coalition is crippled by the ultras and has to be seen to be pressured into any flexibility in negotiation and it’s Obama the Supine.

        Just too dumb to deserve the esteem I wish I could lavish.

        • Sorry to hear about your drumstick. We’re all of us getting older. Are you sure your negativity isn’t a manifestation of torschlusspanik?

          Incidently, How it’s Made had an excellent little video on drumstick production that I assume you can find on the web – I saw it on the show itself which I always watch when it includes mass produced things, the marvel and glory of our age. I loved that the things not only have to be individually tuned but also carefully matched in pairs. So I assume you have to buy a new pair lest the tune (or whatever) of a single new one clash with that of your old one.

  7. The implications of this mis-guided policy for the next election could be significant in that Secretary of State Clinton’s titular leadership role, putting her in the position of getting the blame for its failure, isn’t reflected in her lack of obvious input to that policy. The appointment of a probably unqualified Clinton to her current post may well have been the result of an Obama team strategy to marginalize her domestic profile by placing her in a spot where any kind of meaningful success is unlikely, lessening her viability as a future primary opponent. Domestic economic conditions and international trade considerations have pushed the Israeli-Arab situation, and Clinton, off the front pages and far down the list of American worries. Since her current position precludes any negative commentary on the administration’s policies, she has become basically a spokesperson for the establishment, rather than a force in her own right. It’s seems very unlikely that Clinton will be willing to go down with the Obama ship. She has New York senator and Secretary of State on her CV now. The continuing media fascination with Sarah Palin, who has no official position anywhere, has to be driving the ignored Clinton crazy. It won’t be long before she gives up her State Department role and gathers together the disaffected followers that firmly believe she was swindled out of the opportunity to easily win a presidential election. This will make the unity of the Democrats even more imaginary. Clinton might actually be able to exert a more positive influence on the Israeli-Arab stalemate from outside the State Department, should she care to do so. In any event, a middle east settlement on administration guidelines seems unlikely anytime soon.

  8. cm — you raise a very good point about Hillary. It’s hard to say how much of Team Obama’s ineffable foreign policy posture originates with her.

    I’m guessing she’s actually onboard, however, with the overly-clever cutesiness of bureaucratic gesture it relies on. Hillary is reportedly a major list-maker and she comes off as a natural bureaucrat: someone who’s always poring over the rules to figure out what her opportunities and limitations are, rather than concentrating on what the problem is and what’s the best way to get the desired result.

    That said, she has never emitted the anti-Israel vibe that comes so strongly from Obama and some of his senior appointees. She did, famously, make the first quasi-official statement of US support for a two-state solution when she was FLOTUS. But in the context of the Bill Clinton policy toward Israel, that was noteworthy but not apparent evidence of partisan alignment with anti-Zionism.

    What I think — with you, I believe — that Hillary sees very clearly is the political stupidity of slapping Israel around in front of the US electorate. Poll after poll continues to show strong support for Israel here. I do think Hillary may consider it necessary to decouple from Team Obama in the next year.

  9. adam — those are good points about the 80s influence on Obama. The personal animosity of Said’s and Khalili’s followers to Netanyahu is an aspect I hadn’t thought a lot about, but I think you may have something there.

    When I read Obama’s undergrad piece about the nuclear freeze movement in the Columbia student rag, the principal impression I came away with was that it was 99% about the personalities in the student organizing effort, and 1% about the concept of a “nuclear freeze.” It’s a window into Obama’s mental priorities, for sure. The idea that political personality clashes from the 80s are still a major factor in his thought processes hangs together.

    • And don’t forget his reference during the campaign to those who think being pro-Israel means always supporting what the Likud party says. “Likud” was code word–starting in the 80s, when the Left really took up the cult of Palestine–for anyone who was unreservedly pro-Israel, and it was given sinister connotations of Israeli expansionism in alliance with the Jewish Lobby, Christian Evangelicals, American imperialism, etc. But my point here is that no one would use “Likud” as that kind of shorthand who hadn’t imbibed his whole sense of the issues from Said, Khalidi et al. (I don’t think the Left even uses it anymore–it’s a fossilized reference, suggesting equally fossilized thinking).

  10. They took away her negotiating authority, giving it to Holbrooke, Ross, and Mitchell, for Afghanistan,
    Iran, and the territories, respectively, she was trying to be the Humphrey /DLC choice during the primary, McChrystal’s support of her, made that

  11. And the policy of buying the oats for every horse in the race leads to this:

    • “In defending its assistance to UNRWA, the State Department told Congress that the aid “directly contributes to the US strategic interest of meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, while promoting their self-sufficiency. UNRWA plays a stabilizing role in the Middle East through its assistance programs, serving as an important counterweight to extremists.””

      Madness. No more sensible than feeding mad dogs in one’s back yard or buying and releasing white mice for the enjoyment of a nest of copperheads under one’s porch.

      We amply deserve the scorn of our enemies around the world, and we have for a very long time. In that sense we were indeed responsible in part for the 9/11 attacks.

      • White Mice and Copperheads Under the Porch sounds like a perfect title for a UN “relief worker” memoir.

  12. Broomnobs and bedsteads,
    White mice and copperheads,
    Many folks rue,
    Helmets of blue,
    Who take all their cues,
    From painted over reds,
    Pewter crowned heads,
    And the winners of coups.

  13. most cool, sully.

    (and the counters of coup, too)

    • How did I miss that – revision below with other changes.

      Broomnobs and bedsteads,
      White mice and copperheads,
      Common folks rue,
      Helmets of blue,
      Who take all their cues,
      From whited out reds,
      Wobbly crowned heads,
      And counters of coups.

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