The administration-friendly New York Times today published a story entitled “Obama Speech Signals a U.S. Shift on Middle East” dictated by attributed to “unnamed White House officials” which I think we can take as an ‘official’ statement of the administration’s policy. It’s worth dissecting the key portions.
When Mr. Obama declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a “vital national security interest of the United States,” he was highlighting a change that has resulted from a lengthy debate among his top officials over how best to balance support for Israel against other American interests.
Mentioning the need to “balance support for Israel against other American interests” tells us two things:
- our interests not only diverge from those of Israel, but in some sense are at odds with them; and,
- we intend to change the degree to which we support Israel.
By “other American interests,” what is meant is the desire to improve relations with the Arab nations and perhaps Iran; the administration appears to believe that this can be accomplished by reducing our support for Israel.
Saying that the “vital national security interest of the United States” is involved also tells us two things:
- that the administration is (at least publicly) maintaining that there is a ‘linkage‘ between the Palestinian issue and other conflicts in the region, in effect a causal connection; and,
- that the US will go to almost any length to achieve its aims (‘vital’ means vital).
The Times’ article continues,
This shift, described by administration officials who did not want to be quoted by name when discussing internal discussions, is driving the White House’s urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal. It increases the likelihood that Mr. Obama, frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to terms, will offer his own proposed parameters for an eventual Palestinian state.
If the problem is that they “cannot come to terms”, then it won’t help to ‘propose’ parameters. Neither side will accept them unless they are forced to. This is a threat to do that.
Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Here is the linkage again. And if the reason the conflict is not solved is that Israel is not giving up enough — and we’ve seen that despite all the evidence, the administration insists that this is the case — then Israel is responsible when our soldiers are killed and wounded. The next step is to hint that anyone who disagrees cares more about Israel than the US — oh wait, they’ve already done that.
Our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan — which are going to get much worse, soon — are therefore Israel’s fault rather than a product of the political incompetence of the last two administrations. How convenient.
One of Mr. Obama’s first acts of foreign policy, even before he became President, was to let Israel know that the IDF had better be out of Gaza before his inauguration. And it was.
Then he made a massive effort to turn toward the Muslim world, in particular in his Cairo speech when he compared the Palestinian longing for a homeland with the Holocaust.
In his first six months, President Obama traveled to more foreign countries than any previous president, including Saudi Arabia (where he famously bowed deeply to King Abdullah), Egypt, Turkey and Iraq. Recently he has been in Qatar and Afghanistan. Since he became president, he has been on every continent except South America and Antarctica. Despite the alleged close relationship between Israel and the US and the importance attached to the Israeli-Arab conflict, he has not visited there as president.
He did, however, send Vice President Biden, whose visit provided an opportunity to engineer a break with Israel over a trivial issue, and use it as an excuse to press demands for further concessions to the Palestinians.
When PM Netanyahu visited the US a week later, he was deliberately and publicly humiliated.
Until now, the administration has said that there was no change in policy toward Israel, that there was simply a ‘disagreement among friends’, etc. Of course the President’s behavior sent an entirely different message.
This morning, the administration made it official.