October 29, 2008
It's 3 a.m. and the Prime Minister of Israel is Calling
Joe Biden's warning that America's enemies will test the mettle of Barack Obama is a reminder that this election should be about which presidential candidate is best equipped to handle an international crisis. For supporters of Israel this question takes on even greater importance in light of Jesse Jackson's warning that in an Obama administration "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end.
Israel now is surrounded by tens of thousands of missiles, provided by Iran to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Syria is known to have the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the Middle East, and both Syria and Iran are known to be developing nuclear capabilities. Among the likely scenarios for the next crisis is a massive surprise attack on Israel, possibly involving unconventional weapons. In choosing a President, supporters of Israel need to ask themselves who they most trust to answer the phone at the White House in the middle of the night when the Prime Minister of Israel calls.
To understand Israel's vulnerability, and the vital role the President of the United States plays in securing Israel's existence, one need only look at the 1973 Yom Kippur War. On October 6, 1973, I was 14 years old. I remember waking that morning and turning on my clock radio to hear of a crisis that had developed in the Middle East overnight. On that Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the armies of Egypt and Syria had launched a surprise attack on Israel, and Israel's survival was in doubt.
Within the first days of the Yom Kippur War, Egyptian troops broke through Israeli lines in the Sinai desert, while Syrian tanks poured into the Golan Heights. Only the incredible bravery of the Israeli troops on duty that holiday prevented a catastrophe. On the Golan Heights, a small contingent of Israeli tank commanders slowed down hundreds of Syrian tanks at enormous personal sacrifice, buying enough time for Israel to mobilize its reserves. This heroic battle is recounted first hand in Avigdor Kahalani's The Heights of Courage. In the Sinai, brash tactics of Ariel Sharon and other Israeli commanders prevented Egyptian tanks from advancing towards Israel.
But Israeli victory owed its success to more than bravery. On October 12, 1973, President Nixon ordered a massive military re-supply airlift to Israel. President Nixon made this decision over the objections of the foreign policy establishment, which wanted a more "balanced" approach. Israel owed its survival to a Republican President who was not afraid to make a hard, and in some quarters unpopular, decision in a time of crisis.
There is only one person in the world who can destroy Israel. That person is not the leader of Syria or Iran, or the head of some terrorist group. The only person who can destroy Israel is the President of the United States, whose decisions in times of crisis affect Israel's survival. If Richard Nixon has not taken the bold decision to resupply Israel, Israel would not be here today.
"9/11" was America's Yom Kippur War, the day on which Americans understood that the appearance of peace may be an illusion. Who, on 9/10, could have imagined that 24 hours later the World Trade Center Towers would crumble, and the Pentagon would burn? The attack on September 11, 2001 showed that what happened to Israel in 1973 could happen here.
The United States did not have to be vulnerable to attack in 2001, any more than Israel needed to be vulnerable in 1973. In each instance, politicians failed to recognize that the appearance of safety is not enough, and that the enemies of the United States and Israel plot attacks even during peacetime.
The success of the 1967 "6-day War" had lulled Israelis into complacency, leading Israel not to launch a preemptive attack in 1973 despite numerous warning signs. Similarly, during the 1990s the United States was lulled into complacency by the end of the Cold War. Many Americans, particularly on the political left, thought human nature had changed and that if we were "nice" to those who hate us they would be "nice" to us. The first attack on the World Trade Center, the bombings of our embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole, met with tepid response from the Clinton administration. While government leaders ignored these warning signs, the enemies of the United States plotted even greater attacks.
The mainstream media's obsession with electing Obama has pushed history aside. But the Yom Kippur War and the 9/11 attacks hold important implications for the current election. History shows that being nice to our enemies does not mean they will be nice to us. Yet the Obama's foreign policy is built on this false premise.
Voting also is a matter of trust. Voters are choosing the person they most trust to protect the United States and its allies. It is not surprising that public support for Israel among the American public has increased since 9/11. Most Americans now recognize that Israel is the proverbial canary in the coal mine, that Israel and the United States share the same fate and the same enemies. But this support for Israel is not universal. The last bastion of anti-Israel fervor in this country is occupied by a toxic mix of radical leftists and Islamists, and anti-Israel academics, who hold sway over a portion of Obama's base. William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, Rashid Khalidi and Louis Farrakhan are just some of the personalities upon which Obama cut his political teeth.
Questions regarding Obama's ability to handle an international crisis are not new. Hillary Clinton's famous "3 a.m." video touched an emotional nerve which voters should not forget as they cast their votes. "It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and its ringing. Something's happening in the world...." These words brought home the dilemma facing our country and our allies. While Americans can see our children sleeping safely, our children may not be safe. We cannot see the enemies of our children who are awake and plotting against us.
It appears that many people have forgotten what it felt like on October 6, 1973, and September 11, 2001. Forgetting history, and focusing solely on the present economic turmoil, is risky to our nation's security. Democracies must remain vigilant. Letting a nation's guard down even for a holiday can have disastrous consequences.
The American people do not know what the crisis will be when that phone rings in the White House in the middle of the night. We do know, however, that the person who answers the phone will have to make a decision, and fast. No time to see which way the political wind is blowing. No chance to avoid taking a position, or voting "present." What stands between Americans and our enemies is the willingness of our leaders to make the hard decisions necessary to protect us and our allies, sometimes in the middle of the night.
While voters have no control over which crisis arises, we do have control over who answers the phone. For supporters of Israel who remember October 6, 1973, the choice of which person will answer the White House phone is critical because Israel's very survival may be at stake.
Supporters of Israel are correct to be concerned with the prospect of an Obama presidency. Which Obama will pick up the phone in the middle of the night? Will it be the Obama who says all the right things about Israel's safety, or will it be the pre-campaign Obama who was comfortable being arount the anti-Israeli elements in our society when it served his political interests? Will it be the Obama who pledges never to put Israel's security in jeopardy, or will it be the Obama who surrounds himself with foreign policy advisors who argue for more "balance" in the Middle East policy of the United States? In choosing Obama, will supporters of Israel be doing the equivalent of picking Door No. 2 on the game show Let's Make a Deal, where we don't know if we made the right choice until it's too late?
A President who hesitates in making a decision, or who worries about "balance" and popularity among the far left, endangers Israel's survival. When the phone rings at 3 a.m. in the White House, and the Prime Minister of Israel is calling, who do you want answering the phone?
William A. Jacobson is Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY, and author of the Legal Insurrection Blog. The views expressed here are his own, and not on behalf of the university. Thanks to The Nose on Your Face for video production.