Sunday, March 04, 2012

Obama maneuvers within a 'sacrosanct' commitment

On Friday, I expressed my admiration for Obama's articulation in the Goldblog interview of U.S. policy with respect to Iran. In his speech before AIPAC today, Obama threaded the same needle, balancing a promise not to let Iran obtain nuclear weapons (backed by a litany of alleged dire global consequences if it does) with a forceful statement that loose talk of war and/or a unilateral Israeli strike would undermine his strategy and yield potentially disastrous consequences. To his credit, unlike in the Goldblog interview, he argued at some length that Israel can have no true security if it does not make peace with the Palestinians. And it took courage to affirm the following in the face of a disloyal opposition always screaming 'weakness':
as president and commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm's way. I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don't make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

I am troubled, though, by the frame within which Obama maneuvers, which would take years to alter, and which in a sense he gave up altering when the Israelis refused a total settlement freeze in 2009 and when they ended their partial freeze in the fall of 2010.  While Obama may be withstanding the pressure to go to war in Israel's perceived self-interest as well as anyone in his chair might, at this moment when the entire GOP leadership is striving to outdo one another in subordinating American interests to Israel's, the price is maintaining the fiction that U.S. and Israeli interests are aligned.  He is bound to speak nonsense like this, delivered to AIPAC today:

Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share -- in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America's commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.
If Israel unilaterally bombs Iran, or generates enough political pressure to force the U.S. to do it, then the security of our respective "communities" -- at least as understood by their leaders -- will be proven to have been at odds. As for the other alleged ties that bind: yes, Israel is productive in science and hi tech, but that is hardly a shared "value." Common "ideals"? Israel's dominant ideal under Netanyahu is to appropriate as much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as it can while neutralizing effective opposition and extorting as much weaponry and material support as it can from the United States to maintain and extend its regional monopoly in first-world military capability (which includes a massive nuclear arsenal).

In the dysfunctional political climate imposed by relentless GOP jingoism, Obama was driven in this speech to boast at length about his furtherance of those "ideals." In fact throughout his political career he has always paid tribute to the United States' "sacrosanct" -- which means unconditional -- bond with Israel -- as anyone serious about becoming president of this country must. But at a time when a majority of Israeli youth believes that Israeli Arabs should be treated as second class citizens, and when the dominant Israeli response to the overthrow of neighboring dictatorships is fear and exhortation of the U.S. to prop up dictators, the assertion of common "ideals" is increasingly illusory.

As long as American support for Israel is unconditional, statements like these are meaningless:

remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America's national security is too important. Israel's security is too important.
Were the relationship not distorted by politics, Israel would suffer consequences when it acts against American interests.

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