Obama’s no Polemarchus

Rahm Emanuel is sick of Israelis and Palestinians. In an explosion of even-handedness, he stopped just short of calling for a pox on both of our houses:

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recently told the Israeli consul in Los Angeles that the Obama administration is fed up with both Israel and the Palestinians, Army Radio reported on Wednesday.

Emanuel met with Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, about two weeks ago, after which Dayan briefed the Foreign Ministry. Emanuel told Dayan the U.S. is sick of the Israelis, who adopt suitable ideas months too late, when they are no longer effective, according to Army Radio.

The U.S. is also sick of the Palestinians who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Emanuel reportedly said. — Ha’aretz

With respect to Israel,

Emanuel reportedly said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly acknowledged the two-state solution too late, and that the freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank came only after months of U.S. pressure.

Is it reasonable to think that the Palestinian and Israeli positions on Jerusalem borders, refugees, etc. would have been any closer together six months ago than today? After all, Olmert offered much more to the Palestinians in 2008 than Netanyahu will countenance today, without results. So why would it have helped to get Netanyahu to utter the magic words “two-state solution” — words which mean entirely different things to Israelis and Palestinians — or to impose a partial settlement freeze which will never be enough for the Palestinians?

No, what prevents a settlement is that what Israel can give without surrendering its right to exist is less than the minimum that the Palestinian leadership can accept. Welcome to the Middle East, as the old joke goes.

This should have been clear to the Obama Administration from the outset. But they continued to believe that all they needed to do was push a little harder. This backfired when US pushing for a settlement freeze gave the Palestinians an excuse to refuse to talk; of course they know that Israel isn’t ready to roll over yet, so why bother.

It’s a reflection of the shape of the conflict: it is not, as the Obama Administration sees it in the most charitable interpretation, simply a struggle over the territories and Jerusalem.  If that were the case, maybe it could succeed in beating the two sides into a two-state compromise in which neither would be entirely happy. Rather, it’s a struggle over whether there will be an Israel at all. The only ‘compromises’ possible in this situation are defined by how long the Jewish state exists before it’s swallowed up.

This is nothing new. Zionists have been saying it since Arafat demonstrated this when he chose war over a Camp David agreement. It’s interesting that US officials are capable of understanding the Israeli position — Israel wants peace within secure borders — but insist on misunderstanding that of the Arabs, who want all of ‘their’ land, from the river to the sea, under their control.

Emanuel added that if there is no progress in the peace process, the Obama administration will reduce its involvement in the conflict, because, as he reportedly said, the U.S. has other matters to deal with.

Does it ever! It’s tough being an empire in decline, dealing with internal and external barbarians every day. It certainly doesn’t need a diplomatic impasse with no positive payoff for US interests even if it did get what it wanted, which it won’t.

Actually, what America needs is a strong ally in the Mideast who can help it hold back Iran, which threatens to push Western influence entirely out of the region, and perhaps ultimately out of an Islamified Europe. It could have such an ally in Israel, which has great incentive to oppose Iran, which is trying to crush it between the pincers of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Nope, instead Obama plays engagement games with Iran while the centrifuges spin. At the same time, he uses the ‘peace process’ as a club to bludgeon Israel, for example by insisting on a pointless settlement freeze that is causing the nation to tear itself apart.

In Plato’s Republic, Polemarchus suggests that Justice is “helping one’s friends and hurting one’s enemies.” This may not be Plato’s favorite definition of Justice, but it certainly is part of successful international relations. Why is the US doing the opposite?

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9 Responses to “Obama’s no Polemarchus”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    The analysis of the no- peace process and the Administration arrogance and stupidity seems to me accurate. But I have a reservation in regard to the way relations between the United States and Israel currently are portrayed. I have the sense that the U.S. does treat Israel as an ally, on Intelligence and Security matters. There are long-established networks of cooperation in various areas ,which as far as I understand, the present Administration is not breaking off. There is too after all the overwhelming sympathy of the American people and the Congress towards Israel which would make it very unwise politically for the Administration to further antagonize Israel. I am too hoping that the understanding Prime Minister Netanyahu claims to exist between Israel and the U.S. is real, and that if decisive action is taken on Iran it will not be to the detriment of Israel.

  2. Grandma says:

    Rham Emmanuel reminds me of a Chicago thug. From what he said, it sounds like he’s trying to hint at our abondonment of Israel. Maybe he really IS sly, in that he’s leaving it up to Israel to attack Iran, all the while making it look like the U.S. was totally against it. It could be all political rhetoric made to make the U.S. look “innocent”.
    That’s one way of looking at it. The other scenario is that Emmanuel is threatening Israel and his all-powerful ego is giving orders from “HE who must be obeyed!”. Take your pick.
    Freedman is more optimitic than I. This administration has not been listening to the majority of Americans. We are completely ignored, aided and abetted by the mainstream media. Our only hope is to turn the tables on this Congress and the president in the elections of 2010 (that is, if we make it to 2010 before too much damage is done).

  3. levari says:

    well, if anyone should know missed opportunities, it’s the obama administration–but this is rather a case of the pot calling the linen black. shalom, i don’t think we’ve been in the position for a very long time. exploited underling is more like it. this became painfully obvious to me during the first gulf war. grandma, i don’t believe they’re that disingenuous–they’ve been coasting on “well, they’re doing this apparently awful thing right now, but i’m sure they’ve got an ace up their sleeve” razzledazzle for too long. i’m pretty disappointed; i had very high hopes for emmanuel.

  4. levari says:

    whoops. i meant position of allies. sorry.

  5. Letsgetreal says:

    I think this article is much too hard on Emmanuel. Politics is the art of the possible. With that in mind sometimes you have to do things that go against the grain in order to get a result. A freeze on settlements is a good example, since it undercuts the argument that Israel is only interested in territorial expansion.

    As for that Polemarchus definition of justice, sometimes helping one’s friends is best done by NOT hurting their enemies to a point where they become absolutely desperate.

  6. Robman says:

    I’m pretty much with you, Grandma (as usual).

    Look people, I was born within two months of Obama. When he was at Columbia, I was at U of M Ann Arbor. When he was doing his community organizer gig, I was serving my country in the army. When he was at Harvard, I was at U Chicago. While I was there, I met his good buddy, Rashid Khalidi, who subsequently raised $70,000 for Obama’s first senate campaign. Now, I can tell you, Rashid is a guy who has spent the whole of his entire adult professional life utterly dedicated to the complete demonization, delegitimization, and dismantlement of Israel. I don’t think he backed Obama just because he thought Obama was a swell guy, or because he was looking forward to Obama passing national health care.

    I had countless housemates, assistant professors, colleagues, etc., who talked and thought like Obama. To them, Israel is an anachronistic, overtly religious (they hate religion), fossil of white guy colonialism imposed upon the poor hapless Arabs. A well-organized, petrodollar funded campaign in motion since at least the early 1980s have made certain that our “finest” universities turn out legions of students who have this narrative beaten into their tiny brains. This is part and parcel of a larger world view that sees America in particular and “the West” in general, with it’s ‘exploitative capitalism/colonialism’, etc., as the core of the world’s problems. All of the problems we have with Islamists today, and even the communist empire during the Cold War, stem from our own “original sin” in this regard. WE are the problem. WE need to make ourselves “safe for the world”. Hence, the “apology tour”. Hence, appeasement as national policy taken to a humiliating extreme never before practiced by the U.S., ever, not even under Carter.

    Almost everyone Obama has surrounded himself with – with very few exceptions – pretty much shares this world view. Among these people, what most of the rest of us decent Joes and Janes understand to constitute “patriotism” is just so much bunk, for simpletons and chumps. To them, being anti-American is somehow perversely elevated into a kind of “patriotism” in it’s own right. And even the more otherwise conservative types who might not share this worldview (e.g., Chuck Hegel), belong pretty much uniformly to the “dump Israel in order to appease the mythical ‘moderate Arabs'” crowd. To the extent that Obama even had the slightest appearance of having a politically “eclectic” group of advisors around him, this one quality seemed to be common to them all.

    Yes, the fact that we have all of these long-standing relationships with Israel with respect to security, intelligence, etc., make it difficult for Obama to turn on a dime in this relationship. And there is the fact that a solid majority of Congress supports Israel, and he can’t change that so easily, either. But he has massively telegraphed his intentions, with his outrageous appointments, with his sickening speeches, with his VERY FIRST television interview upon becoming president to Al Arabiya, and so on.

    Rahm Emmanuel? So what if his father fought in the Irgun, or whatever. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the CEO of J-Street, has a similar resume to Emmanuel’s. I would liken both to the Jewish Police in the Warsaw Ghetto: self-interested cowards with great powers of rationalization, who probably have “dad problems” to boot.

    Obama has fulfilled most of my worst expectations. I am still appalled that the Jews of America – heck, much of American besides, but especially my fellow Jews, who are supposed to be so “smart” – were so willfully blind, so easily fooled, into supporting this traitor, this charlatan, this ANTI-PATRIOT.

    The only silver lining I see in all of this is that it is increasingly becoming clear that this guy is a one-term president if ever there was. He is toast in 2012; that you can practically take to the bank. But, like you, Grandma, I fear that a lot of damage can be done in three years. Until this nightmare is over, my blood pressure will be permanently higher than it would otherwise be (I can’t get gray hairs or lose anymore; I’m “Mr. Clean” bald!).

  7. Letsgetreal says:

    A very well written comment, Robman. However like extremists the world over you demonise and abuse your opponents, ignoring any distinctions and shades of gray in the positions they take up.

    Of course there are many on the left in the USA and elsewhere who come near to fitting your description of them. Being on the left here in Britain I have spent most of my formative years moving in these circles, as Obama and Emmanuel did in your country. But having once moved in these circles does not necessarily mean that you are fully signed up to their agenda in your more mature years. It is perfectly possible to be on the left and to reject the more extremist positions that some of your associates have taken up. I have been doing this for most of my political life (at some cost).

    From what I know of the policies of Obama and Emmanuel (as opposed to the caricatures of them in your rightwing press and TV) they fall into the same category as myself. That is why they have taken so much flak from the left as well as from the right.

    To suggest they belong to the “dump Israel to appease the moderate Arabs” brigade is a gross distortion and exaggeration. This charge is a mirror image of those Arab extremists who accuse Abbas of dumping Gaza to appease moderate Israelis.

    Another mark of extremism is to interpret any concession as simply giving in to the enemy and to regard anybody who seeks a solution that falls short of your own as “traitors” “charlatans” and “anti-patriots”. I oppose such extremism wherever it is coming from. That is the way to Armaggedon (and very high blood pressure).

  8. Robman says:


    Greetings. Mind you, I know whereof I speak in terms of my appreciation of the likes of Obama, Emmanuel, etc., because, like you, I was once much farther to the left than I am today, at least on domestic policy. Broadly speaking, I too have undergone a metamorphosis not unlike yours.

    Yes, people can change their views over time, but when I look at where they’ve been and juxtapose this with what they are doing today, I’m not seeing nearly enough “maturation” to be reassured in the least.

    Why, for example, this ridiculous demand for a 100% freeze on so-called “settlement activity”? Even in land that has been annexed to Israel?

    No country in all of history, that has acquired land in the course of a defensive war, has ever been compelled by a third party to return all of said land to the aggressors in the relevant conflict. That is simply absurd, yet that is what the Palestinians demand, and effectively acting as their “lawyer”, Obama & Co. backs them up! Before the UN and the world, Obama’s recent speech in that venue completely conformed to the Palestinian narrative (at least the softer version they prepare for Western ears), and was rightly seen by many observers as the most anti-Israel speech given by a U.S. president in history, period.

    Publicly, Obama and his lapdogs in what you call the “right wing media” here (that is a laugh except for FOX and the Wall Street Journal, and on the one subject of Israel, even THEY mostly back Obama’s line), has held Israel COMPLETELY responsible for lack of progress due to the bogus “settlements” issue.

    Where is the pressure on the Palestinians over the RECOGNITION issue? Isn’t that of more fundamental importance than the matter of settlements? The Palestinian Charter to this day specifically declares Israel as a Jewish state to be illegitimate; Arafat himself promised to amend the Palestinian Charter accordingly per the Oslo Accords, a promise on which he promptly reneged. Today, even the so-called “moderate” Abbas has frequently and publicly refused to do even this. And without recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people (which, really, should be seen as no more controversial than sayign the Poland is the national homeland of the Polish people), any agreement they sign with Israel is worthless. Later, when they renege and resume terrorism or other attacks against Israel, they will be able to logically explain their “betrayal” by simply saying that they can’t be held to account for the terms of an agreement signed with an “illegtimate entity”.

    FIRST, there has to be recognition. THEN, two states who recognize the legitimacy of each other can negotiate borders. THEN, AND ONLY THEN, can it be decided which settlement are “legitimate” and which ones are not. What is so “extreme” about that?

    And besides, so what if some Jews wind up on the Arab side of the border? As things stand today, the Palestinian position is that this cannot be tolerated. Arabs can live in Israel, but Jews cannot live in Palestine. The penalty for selling land to a Jews is death, within the PA. But according to you, my views are “extreme”.

    Just substitute “North Korea” for “the Palestinians” or “the PA” on the one hand, and “South Korea” for “Israel” on the other, within the context of how Obama – and much of what passes for “mainstream” public debate – treats the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and you can see for yourself just how absurd their positions are. Using the logic all too often applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and overlaying the same to the Korean peninsula, well, we can clearly see that the reason for North Korea’s belligerence and intransigence is our “one-sided” support of South Korea. Maybe if we took a more “even-handed” approach, there’d be less tension on the peninsula and we could bring our boys home, and the North Koreans would dismantle their nuke program, etc. Fantasyland, right? But for me to suggest that the same approach to Israel/Palestine is outrageous, that makes me an “extremist”.

    To cite another example, you suppose we should have taken a more “even-handed” approach between Britain and Germany circa 1940? Why not? The Germans had – at least according to them – “legitimate” gripes. Versailles was soooo “unjust”. Plenty of half-baked revisionist history was out there downplaying German responsibility for WW1; should this have been given the kind of credence that equally bogus Palestinian narratives are often given today in “respectable” circles? And even Nazi German society was more “enlightened” in her approach to human rights in many respects than the Palestinians under the PA and most other Arab/Moslem societies besides (e.g., at least women there could work, and at least they weren’t subjected to ‘honor killings’). And lest you think that my comparing the PA to the Nazis is outlandish, consider that Arafat’s primary political mentor, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the 1930s and the war, was an open collaborator with Hitler. He even offered to build and run an extermination camp for Jews if the Nazi divisions were able to occupy Mandatory Palestine (but, I suppose in your book, this is a ‘past association’ of ‘no relevance’ to the present).

    Look, I am aware that Obama’s policies towards Israel have not been 100% negative. After some hesitation, he pulled out of Durban 2, and he ultimately condemned the Goldstone Report. There have been joint military exercises, he backed them up when the Turks pulled out of an air force drill over having to include Israel, and for now, military assistance packages to Israel continue (much to the relief of Lockheed Martin, let me tell you). But as a practical matter, #1) there are other interests involved here that may trump Obama & Co.’s particular prejudices (e.g., see my reference to Lockheed Martin above), and #2) even Obama is realistic enough to realize that he has to hold SOME carrots in front of Israel, because if he turns against them completely, they’ll have NOTHING to lose by giving him the finger, he’ll have NO leverage with them at all, and it will thus be easy as pie for his detractors at FOX to blame the consequent faulure of his Mideast initiatives on him.

    But even what examples you or others may cite as “favors” Obama is doing for Israel represent no excuse for not treating Israel like a full-fledged ally, as a member of the family of liberal democracies, who in all cases EXCEPT Israel”s, can count on virtually unequivocal U.S. support when faced with threats by violent authoritarian or totalitarian states or other entities (i.e., terrorism). All I am asking is (no, I don’t “ask”, I DEMAND) that Israel be given the same consideration as say, South Korea or Japan or Greece, that is all. If that makes me an “extremist”, then so be it!

    I couldn’t disagree more with your last comment in your original post, “Letsgetreal”. I challenge you to come up with even ONE plausible example from history that illustrates the principle you promoted.

    Bottom line, if a country is your ally, you treat them as your ally. If that ally has an enemy who shares the same ideology, method of warfare, etc., as the enemies you face, then you treat their enemy as your enemy as well, and at the very least, you resolutely back up your ally in their struggle against said enemy. That is not “extremism”, that is common sense. And that is what we’ve done in every other major war we’ve fought successfully. What Obama & Co. are doing today – and I admit it has been done before by past administrations, even Bush, but Obama is taking this farther than ever before – is effectively emboldening the Palestinians and their backers, making them less and less likely to make even the most minimal concessions in the interests of a genuine peace (i.e., recognition, which I’ve heard Obama privately backs but he is putting no real pressure on them for this; it just seem like an empty pro-forma position on the Obama administration’s part).

    You’d think after Oslo, after the decades of experience we’ve had with this spectacularly naive and inneffectual practice of lending all of this credence to the positions of the PA within the context of them being a virtually “morally comparable”, legitimate negotiating partner with Israel, we’d learn. But Obama’s solution? LET’S PUT THIS FAILED POLICY ON STEROIDS. I can only conclude from this that he is either incredibly dumb – which I kind of doubt – or he is simply being disingenuous. And the implications of the latter bring me back to the points I was making in my original post. In other words, it seems to me as if he WANTS this effort to fail, and he wants it to fail in such a way that he can blame it all on Israel, and thus use this as an excuse to, well, “dump Israel”. We’ll see how events play out, and whether the course of the same reveal my views to be “extremist” or not.

    I don’t believe in making concessions to implacable foes, “Letsgetreal”. I feel that the lessons of history in this regard are voluminous, and I feel that ignoring such lessons reveal a willful ignorance that is informed by an ideology that is outrageously naive at best, and plausibly traitorous at worst in it’s ultimate effects, even if not by conscious intent (and I don’t rule out conscious intent here either, “Letsgetreal”. What was Obama’s self-described ‘spiritual mentor’ for TWENTY YEARS saying from his pulpit? And he is far from being the only example of such a personage in Obama’s life, as has been amply documented. Or was all of that fabricated by our “right wing media”? You think that counts for nothing?).

  9. Robman says:


    I admit that I must cut you some slack in one sense: Compared with Gordon Brown, who heads Britains most anti-Israel government ever, and what is probably, with the exception of Sweden, the most anti-Israel administration in all of Western Europe, Obama probably doesn’t look that bad.