Saturday, September 05, 2015

Obama overcompensates for winning

Obama's defense of the Iran deal in an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward's editor-in-chief Jane Eisner was marked by bulletproof logic and and impressive grasp of nuance. It was marred, however, by grotesque overcompensation for having beaten back Netanyahu's attempt to control U.S. policy on this front. Obama foreclosed on the the possibility of a fundamental divide in interests, not to say values, in terms inappropriate to relations between nations:
There are always going to be arguments within families and among friends. And Israel isn’t just an ally, it’s not just a friend — it’s family.
And then:

I think the most important thing for those of us who believe it is our sacred obligation to stand up for Israel and to ensure its security — and that’s for American Jews but also non-Jews who feel that same affinity — the most important thing we can do I think is to continue to have honest conversations and honest debate about what is most likely to provide that kind of long-term security.
That's the language of a nation that has ceded its freedom of action in a  dangerous way. With respect to policy, there are no "family" relations among nations. The U.K. is in one sense literally parent to the U.S. Yet if the U.K. gave way to an aggressive dictatorship and started threatening its neighbors -- say, re-litigating its dispute with Ireland and finding pretext to bite off additional pieces, Putin style -- or level Dublin, also Putin-style -- family ties would not (or should not) obligate the U.S. to maintain a commitment to British "security."

Talk of a "sacred" obligation is worse.That's 19th century mystic nationalist hokum -- or worse, millennialist fantasy. Whatever degree of justice there was in Jews returning to Palestine -- and gaining political control of a part of it -- there was nothing sacred about the endeavor. For sure, religious Jews regarded the land as sacred. But as Obama is fond of reminding us, affirmations of right that are grounded in faith have to be justified in universal terms, and Jews' feeling that the land was sacred to them did not (or should not have) trump the rights of those who already lived in it. If Jews feel that the U.S. has a "sacred" obligation to ensure Israel's security -- regardless of what Israel does to undercut it, or to destroy other people's security -- that feeling has no validity. And the fever dreams of evangelicals-- the belief that Jewish occupation of the land fulfills prophecy -- has even less validity as a driver of U.S. policy.

This presidential genuflection indicates that while Netanyahu has failed in his ostensible goal of blocking the nuclear agreement with Iran, he's won a more fundamental battle. The U.S. is "compensating" Israel for U.S. temerity in shoring up Israel's security with the Iran deal -- after a Titanic effort driven in large part by Israeli hysteria -- by further ramping up Israel's firepower, increasing its already exponential "qualitative advantage" in military might. That firepower will very likely once again rain down on Gaza, after Israel once more provokes its pathetic pinpricks in Israeli security -- just as additional "compensatory" U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia will continue to rain down on Yemen.  Meanwhile, Obama's intimated willingness, after the last Israeli election, to hold Israel accountable for its continued encroachments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and foreclosure of any peace process with the Palestinians has apparently gone up in the smoke of effusive professions of sacred obligation.

Garry Wills once wrote that Obama's m.o. has always been "omnidirectional placation." That's a half-truth, as Obama has also proved relentless and effective in getting his way on fundamentals, such as the Affordable Care Act and the agreement with Iran -- and perhaps, ultimately, a global climate deal.  But the often-fruitless drive to tamp down opposition with preemptive or ex post facto concessions is indeed fundamental to the way he operates. In the middle east, a lot of people die for it.

At the same time, while Netanyahu has for the time being diverted US attention from Israel's crimes against the Palestinians, his hubris has also driven a wedge between U.S. Jews and Israel's perceived self-interest as defined by Netanyahu and AIPAC. Sometimes I tell myself that Obama has loosened the "unbreakable bonds" he's so fond of name-checking as much and as fast as the U.S. political system will bear.  That, again, is the backbeat to "omnidirectional placation." Placation is an essential tool of policy. Alas that whole populations are its pawns.

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