June 4, 2009
Obama, Iran, and IsraelBy Richard Baehr
President Obama has in the past few days indicated that Iran certainly has reason to develop nuclear energy. After all, they are the world's second largest oil exporter. And he will not set any artificial time frames, by the end of which he seeks an Iranian response to his outreach efforts and attempt to dialogue with them. He has said he would like to see "progress" by the end of the year. That makes sense, I guess, since current estimates are that Iran will have completed all the steps to have a nuclear bomb by the end of the year.
The latest outreach effort is a notice sent to all our foreign embassies and consulate offices to invite Iranian officials to their hot dogs and hamburgers party on July 4th. So carrots and sticks for Iran: carrots in the form of pork hot dogs, sticks: well, none yet.
And then there is Israel: Obama and Clinton have laid down their markers: no settlement growth of any kind in the West Bank, and maybe in Jerusalem as well (the Obama administration has been a bit vaguer on this one), though it has stated that Jerusalem must become the capital of a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, recently chosen as Israel's Prime Minister after a free election in the only democracy in the region, has said that Israel will continue to allow natural growth in existing settlements. Bibi has letters exchanged by former President Bush and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, suggesting that natural growth of settlements should not be a problem, since the US accepts in these letters that the 1949 armistice lines will not be the permanent boundaries of Israel if a peace settlement with the Palestinians, were to be achieved .
Of course Chrysler bondholders can tell Netanyahu how much respect the Obama administration has for such legalisms
Obama has now indicated he expects an Israeli response to his demands on settlements, meaning they accept his terms (and his legitimacy as Israel's sovereign), in 4 to 6 weeks.
So too, the New York Times has hinted that the US may pressure Israel to accept its terms on settlements by withdrawing support at the United Nations, and no longer blocking resolutions that are unfair and dangerous to Israel. The last President who did this was Jimmy Carter.
Given some mild push-back from a few Jewish Democrats in Congress (this tells you they are hearing complaints from their constituents) -- Gary Ackerman, Anthony Weiner, Shelley Berkley, and even Obama lapdog Robert Wexler, Obama made a brief visit with Ehud Barak yesterday in Washington and even smiled, which is allowed in the presence of Israel's Labor party leader. Obama even reassured one Jewish group (the Jewish Council of Public Affairs) that all is still well in the US Israel relationship, and that US policy on settlements is consistent with the roadmap. There are of course many parts of the roadmap (some of which call for reciprocal steps by both Israel and the Palestinians) that the Palestinians have totally ignored and about which Obama seems unconcerned. To give Obama credit, he has asked the Palestinians to "reduce" their incitement level against Israel. That "demand" will be pretty easy to comply with (say a 2% reduction), all the better to then pressure Israel to meet Obama's total (100%) settlement freeze demand. But hey, I know and you know that Obama means well.
So what is behind this madness -- sleepwalking as Iran completes its nuclear bomb program, and treating Israel as the problem child in the neighborhood?
Increasingly, Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel appears to be masterminding the effort to force Israel's hand, or better yet, force Netanyahu from office, so as to get a more compliant and fearful Israeli leader into the prime minister's office, one who would be ready and willing to give away the store for nothing.
Rahm was part of the Clinton administration, which did not get along with Netanyahu in Bibi's first term as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999. Rahm has said of Netanyahu recently, "He is a bullshitter". Respectful, at least. Of course, anyone with even a modest understanding of Rahm's take-no-prisoners history (how would he really feel about water-boarding Bibi?) should not be surprised at the new tough" love" for Israel. For this is the kind of regime change Obama favors -- certainly not getting rid of a mass murderer and enemy of America, (and Israel, and Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) such as Saddam Hussein, but driving from office a freely elected leader of a once-strong ally.
I recall in the months after the 2008 election, receiving multiple copies of emails listing all the Jewish people with key roles or influence appointed by the new administration. Rahm Emanuel led the list. After listing all the names, the email asked: "Is this a Cabinet, or a minyan?" This is what counts as humor on the Jewish left. Of course, Rahm is not a Cabinet member. But to Jews who love to count the Jews in any audience, and feel better with lots of company, this line qualified as touching, heartwarming, and rip-snortingly funny.
In reality, Rahm gives cover to Obama's dramatic policy shift towards Israel. That new reality is that Israel is no longer an ally of the United States. It is, rather, an obstacle in the way of better relations with the Muslim world, and the Arab nations in particular. In essence, Obama has swallowed the message of "The Israel Lobby", the recent book by Professors Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer.
Dennis Ross, a key Obama supporter during the campaign (and also listed on the Jewish minyan email as an advisor on Iran today), has a new book coming out, which argues that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is not so central to all the problems America has in the Muslim world, and certainly is not the crux of the issue with Iran. But Rahm, told a few hundred AIPAC bill-fold heavies in DC last month that the two issues -- progress on Iran (fewer hot dogs will be served without meaningful progress) and progress on the Israeli Palestinian track -- are inextricably linked. And the Israeli Palestinian track comes first. And it is Israel that needs to offer the big concessions.
Obama has pulled back on Guantanamo, and on releasing torture photos, after meeting resistance, and reading the poll numbers on these issues. Obama remains popular personally. But many of his policies and new initiatives are not. Will he fold on Israel? I doubt it. And holding out hope that this will occur certainly tells you all you need to know about Obama and Israel.
Those who shilled for the great leader on his pro-Israel credentials during the campaign will have a lot to answer for.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.