Thursday, March 01, 2012

Barack Obama, theocrat?

In a fundraising appearance in New York, Obama bid to turn the focus of the U.S. relationship to Israel back toward making peace with the Palestinians, rather than war with Iran. In so doing, he overcompensated by overstating the nature of the bond between the two countries. As summarized by ABC News' Devin Dwyer:
“The sacrosanct commitment that we make to Israel’s security is not only a matter of providing them the military capabilities they need, not only providing the sort of qualitative military edge that they need in a very tough neighborhood, but also that we are a partner with them to try to bring about a peace in the region that can be lasting,” he said. “And that is a challenge.”
"Sacrosanct" is an odd word for the foreign policy arena.  Here's a definition and etymology from The American Heritage Dictionary:
adj. Regarded as sacred and inviolable.

[Latin sacrosanctus, consecrated with religious ceremonies sacro, ablative of sacrum, religious rite (from neuter of sacer, sacred; see sacred) + sanctus, past participle of sancire, to consecrate; see sak- in Indo-European roots.]
What is Obama suggesting? That America is a Christian nation, with some kind of spiritual bond with the Jewish homeland? If a "sacrosanct" bond isn't founded on religion, what is it founded on?  Why should an alliance with any nation be founded on anything but the United States' interest? And if that interest is intertwined with the country's values, that means it's dependent on the behavior of the countries with which the U.S. interacts, e.g., commitment to human rights, democracy, peaceful resolution of differences, etc.
More concretely, if the U.S. commitment is "sacrosanct," can Israel do nothing to break or even qualify it?  If Israel annexed the West Bank and drove out the inhabitants, would the bond between the two countries remain unbreakable? Would U.S. aid continue unabated?  How about if Israel dropped tactical nukes on Iran's nuclear installations?

Obama is lending credence to the sick theocratic panderings of GOP politicians in thrall to their evangelical base -- in his case, to pander to Jewish voters, or cave to an overriding meme that to accord less than full-throated support to Israeli militarism is to betray "weakness. In fact, asserting his success shaking the rap of Democratic "weakness" was at the heart of his presentation:
“The other side traditionally seems to feel that Democrats are somehow weak on defense, but they’ve had a little trouble making that argument this year because what we’ve shown is there’s no contradiction between being tough and strong and protecting the American people but also abiding by those values that make America great,” he said.
To be fair, Obama is using the profession of strength -- as he used the assertion of a sacrosanct bond with Israel -- as a base from which to assert the need for multilateralism, peacemaking, engagement.  The overall message has balance. But the sacrosanctimony is dangerously out of true.

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