Monday, September 28, 2009
An Enfeebled Obama
An Enfeebled Obama
Monday, September 28, 2009
If Zbigniew Brzezinski had his way, the US would go to war against Israel to defend Iran's nuclear installations.
In an interview with the Daily Beast Web site last weekend, the man who served as former US president Jimmy Carter's national security adviser said, "They [IAF fighter jets] have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch? We have to be serious about denying them that right. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not."
Brzezinski has long distinguished himself as one of the most outspoken Israel-haters in polite circles in Washington. Under normal circumstances, his remarks could be laughed off as the ravings of a garden variety anti-Semite. But these are not normal circumstances. Brzezinski served as a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, and his views are not terribly out of place among Obama's senior advisers in the White House. In an interview in 2002, Samantha Powers, who serves as a senior member of Obama's national security council, effectively called for the US to invade Israel in support of the Palestinians.
The fact of the matter is that Brzezinski's view is in line with the general disposition of Obama's foreign policy. Since entering office, Obama has struck a hard-line position against Israel while adopting a soft, even apologetic line toward Iran and its allies.
For eight months, Obama has sought to force Israel to the wall. He has loudly and repeatedly ordered the Netanyahu government to prevent all private and public construction for Jews in Israel's capital city and its heartland in order to facilitate the eventual mass expulsion of Jews from both areas, which he believes ought to become part of a Jew-free Palestinian state.
Until this week, Obama conditioned the resumption of negotiations toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians on such a prohibition of Jewish building and so encouraged Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to further radicalize his positions toward Israel. Until Obama came around, Abbas had no problem negotiating with Israeli leaders while Jews were building homes and schools and other structures in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. But with Obama requiring a freeze of all such construction, Abbas made clear in an interview with The Washington Post in May that he couldn't talk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu without looking like a sellout.
Obama made no equivalent demands of the Palestinians. He did not precondition talks on freezing illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem, or on dismantling the Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group, or even simply on setting aside the Palestinian demand that Israel release convicted terrorists from its prisons. To the contrary, he has energetically supported the establishment of a Palestinian unity government between Fatah and Hamas - which the US State Department has since 1995 designated as a foreign terrorist organization to which US citizens, including the US president, are required by law to give no quarter.
As for Iran, during his meeting with Netanyahu in May, Obama gave the clear impression that the Iranian regime had until September to accept his offer to negotiate the disposition of its nuclear installations. But it is now September, and in its belated response to Obama's generous offer of engagement, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime rejected the terms of Obama's engagement out of hand. Obama did not retaliate by taking his offer to negotiate off the table or - perish the thought - working to implement the sanctions he had pledged would follow an Iranian rejection of his open hand.
Instead, Obama announced that he is sending a senior US official to meet with the Iranians on October 1. And with that announcement, any residual doubt that Obama is willing to live in a world in which Iran is armed with nuclear weaponry dissipated completely.
In the meantime, in his address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday and in his remarks at his meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas on Tuesday, Obama made clear that, in the words of former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, he has "put Israel on the chopping block." He referred to Israeli communities located beyond the 1949 armistice lines as "illegitimate."
Moreover, Obama explained that Israel can no longer expect US support for its security if it doesn't bow to his demand that it surrender all of the land it has controlled since 1967.
Apparently it is immaterial to the US leader that if Israel fulfilled his demand, the Jewish state would render itself defenseless against enemy attack and so embolden its neighbors to invade. That is, it matters not to Obama that were Israel to fulfill his demand, the prospect of an Arab war against Israel would rise steeply. The fact that Obama made these deeply antagonistic statements about Israel at the UN in itself exposes his hostility toward the country. The UN's institutional hostility toward Israel is surpassed only by that of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
So given Obama's positions toward Israel on the one hand and Iran and its allies on the other, it seems clear enough that the logical endpoint of Obama's policies would look something like Brzezinski's recommended course of action. Moreover, Obama's foreign policy as a whole makes it fairly easy to imagine him ordering the US military to open hostilities against a US ally to defend a US adversary - even as that adversary goes out of its way to humiliate Obama personally and the US in general.
Since Obama took office, he has been abandoning one US ally after another while seeking to curry favor with one US adversary after another. At every turn, America's allies - from Israel to Honduras, to Columbia, South Korea and Japan, to Poland and the Czech Republic - have reacted with disbelief and horror to his treachery. And at every turn, America's adversaries - from Iran to Venezuela to North Korea and Russia - have responded with derision and contempt to his seemingly obsessive attempts to appease them.
The horror Obama has instilled in America's friends and the contempt he has evoked from its enemies have not caused him to change course. The fact that his policies throughout the world have already failed to bring a change in the so-called international community's treatment of the US has not led him to reconsider those policies. As many Western Europeans have begun to openly acknowledge, the man they once likened to the messiah is nothing but a politician - and a weak, bungling one at that. Even Britain's Economist is laughing at him.
But Obama is unmoved by any of this, and as his speech at the UN General Assembly made clear, he is moving full speed ahead in his plans to subordinate US foreign policy to the UN.
His stubborn insistence on advancing his feckless foreign policy in the face of its already apparent colossal failure is of a piece with his unswerving commitment to his domestic agenda in spite of its apparent colossal failure. Obama's economic stimulus package failed to stimulate the US economy and increased the US's economic deficit to heights undreamed of by his predecessors. His nationalization of major US corporations like General Motors, his cash-for-clunkers program to stimulate the US auto industry and his massive encroachments on the banking and financial industries have done nothing to increase economic growth in the US and indeed, unemployment has reached generational highs. And yet, rather than reconsider his belief in vastly expanding the size of the federal government's control over the private sector, Obama has insistently pushed for further governmental control over the US economy - most notably in his drive to transform the US health care industry.
Both Obama's supporters and his opponents have claimed that his presidency may well stand or fall on his ability to pass a health care reform law in the coming months. But the fact of the matter is that if he succeeds in passing such a law, his success will be a Pyrrhic victory because Obama has promised that his plan will do the impossible, and therefore it will unquestionably fail.
He has promised that the health care plan he supports will increase access to health services and improve their quality, but simultaneously will not increase the size of the federal deficit or be funded with tax hikes - and this is impossible. Obama's health care plan will fail either to pass into law, or if it becomes law, it will fail to live up to his promises.
Obama's failures in both foreign and domestic policy have weakened him politically. His response to this newfound weakness has been to put himself into the public eye seemingly around the clock. Apparently the thinking behind the move is that while Obama's policies are unpopular, Obama's personal popularity remains high, so if he personalizes his policies, it will become more difficult for his opponents to argue against them.
But alas, this policy too has failed. The more Obama exposes himself, the less he is able to leverage his personal celebrity into political power.
The question for the US's spurned allies in general - and for Israel in particular - is whether we are better off with a politically strong Obama or a politically weak Obama. Given that the general thrust of his foreign policy is detrimental to our interests, America's allies are best served by a weak Obama. Already this week Israel benefitted from his weakness. It was Obama's weakness that dictated his need to stage a photo-op with Netanyahu and Abbas at the UN. And it was this need - to be seen as doing something productive - that outweighed Obama's desire to put the screws on Israel by preconditioning talks with a freeze on Jewish construction. So Obama was forced to relent at least temporarily and Netanyahu won his first round against Obama.
During a television interview this week, Sen. John McCain was asked for his opinion of Brzezinski's recommendation that the US shoot down IAF jets en route to Iran in a hypothetical Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear installations. He responded with derisive laughter. And indeed, the notion that the US would go to war against Israel to protect Iran's nuclear installations is laughably absurd.
The weaker Obama becomes politically, the more readily Democrats and liberal reporters alike will acknowledge that attacking US allies while scraping and bowing before US foes is a ridiculous strategy for foreign affairs. Certainly no self-proclaimed realist can defend a policy based on denuding the US of its power and forsaking a US-based international system for one dictated by its foes.
It is true that a weakened Obama will seek to win cheap points by putting the squeeze on Israel. But it is also true that the weaker Obama becomes, the less capable he will be of carrying through on his bullying threats against Israel and against fellow democracies around the world.
Posted by Brett at 12:12 AM