President Barack Obama’s speech in Indonesia in which he conceded that the United States must do more to establish a good working relationship with many Muslim nations would have ranked as one of the more pathetic performances by an American president in recent years but for the fact that there have been so many awful performances to choose from. The president’s grammar and syntax were perfect and the speech was cleverly crafted, exactly what we have come to expect. It was replete with carefully designed pauses, Indonesian words and phrases, and some self deprecating humor, but it was characteristically bloodless and completely tone deaf. One almost longed to see Bill Clinton choking up and shedding a tear or two.
Obama’s spin team made a heroic effort to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. They likened the Indonesia speech to his Cairo offering seventeen months ago, in which he likewise committed his administration to establishing a new, more convivial modality for dealing with Islamic nations. That speech was received respectfully and even positively in many quarters, but this time no one was fooled. It’s funny how a year and a half of inaction and even retreat can reshape how someone thinks. One Indonesian commented afterwards "What will Obama do in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? If we don’t see any progress, what he says is just a speech."
Obama’s offering was full of the usual bromides, about how respectful he is of Islam and its traditions. He even touched on Israel-Palestine, not surprisingly blaming both sides for not taking the necessary courageous steps to find peace. It is a familiar argument for American audiences who are used to hearing that the conflict is bilateral, but did not go down well in Indonesia where the listeners are all too aware of the details of the brutal Israeli occupation.
What Obama should have said was that it has now become clear that Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has no desire for any peace agreement that does not provide for perpetual and absolute Israeli dominance over the Palestinians. He should have added that he knows that Netanyahu has nothing but contempt for him personally in the wake of the midterm election debacle and he might also observe that his ability to act independently is conditioned by the Israel Lobby so he can do nothing to help the Palestinians achieve statehood or even to recover a measure of dignity under Israeli occupation. He might admit that he has now been reduced to offering multi-billion dollar bribes of military equipment to Israel just to tempt it to suspend some settlement activity for ninety day. Obama’s words would not have changed reality on the ground, but at least he would have told the truth for a change and the candor would have been refreshing.
If Obama wants to establish some kind of modus vivendi with the Islamic world he must speak to it in language that it understands and not lie about things that all Muslims know to be true. And it is also past time that he begin to speak the truth to the American people also. His administration’s retreat from any confrontation with Israel in an attempt to make a recalcitrant Netanyahu conform even to minimal standards of behavior confirms what all the world already knows: Israel will act and the United States will follow, even if those actions will inflict grave damage on the American people and on the US national interest.
And what will that mean for the United States? It means that the decision about going to war for the US is essentially controlled by Israel because Tel Aviv can start a conflict with Iran at any time that will quickly draw Washington in. Those who think that the White House still is managing the situation are completely naïve. There is no indication that the Obama administration has warned Israel against bombing Iran because the US has no cards to play, having ruled out exerting any sort of economic or military pressure on Netanyahu. And there should be no doubt that an attack by Israel on an Iranian nuclear facility would trigger Iranian retaliation and immediate calls in Congress and the media to support Tel Aviv, leaving the president no option but to enter the conflict. A third war in the region would mean goodbye to any American ability to disengage from the other conflicts that are bleeding the US white and would possibly lead to even more dire consequences if neighbors like nuclear armed Pakistan and India somehow enter the fray.
Bibi Netanyahu surely understands that the cost to the United States in lives and treasure from war with Iran could potentially be catastrophic but it is a price he is willing to pay as his own people and economy would largely be spared, at least initially. No American leader should tolerate such a situation but, deplorably, those who have spoken out at all on the Middle East have lined up behind the Israelis as if they were part of the United States, or even more esteemed than any of the fifty states. Vice President Joe Biden told the Jewish Federations of North America annual gathering in New Orleans last week that "the ties between our two countries are literally unbreakable" and described how he is "absolutely certain that our support for Israel must continue … forever," echoing similar statements made by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. Biden knows full well that Israeli and US interests do not coincide and his comments amount to political pandering of the worst sort. It is even more disconcerting to think that he might actually mean what he says.
Meanwhile Steny Hoyer, who calls himself a Zionist and frequently expresses his love for Israel, and has spoken of "our responsibility to stand by Israel and the Jewish people," is poised to take over as Minority Whip in the House of Representatives. On the other side of the aisle, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Eric Cantor are unrelenting advocates of Israel who are about to step into senior positions in the Republican dominated congress. Cantor recently met privately with Bibi Netanyahu and said the Republican Party would serve "as a check on" the Obama Administration over its policies in the Middle East. Then "He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other." In other words, Cantor was meeting with the leader of a foreign country and promising to do whatever he could to influence and even subvert the foreign policy of his own country. Think about that one for a minute or two.
And while Cantor, Hoyer, Biden and company are ceding US national security to the Israelis, who actually is calling the shots on shaping American policy? None other than the redoubtable Dennis Ross, perched in the National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region. Ross, who has been described as Israel’s lawyer, is poison in the very heart of the policy making apparatus. He recently spoke at an AIPAC Conference in Hollywood Florida where he said "Just last week, I participated in the US-Strategic Dialogue, a biannual event that includes a comprehensive exchange of views on regional issues crucial to both the United State and Israel. But more importantly, the Strategic Dialogue is just one of many, ongoing, and high-level exchanges that occur regularly between the United States in Israel. I’m not aware of another country that we engage more regularly on such a wide range of issues. These types of exchanges not only provide opportunities for discussion of ideas on policy, but they also help solidify connections between our two governments. Over the last two years, I have seen four-star generals, intelligence officers, and high-ranking diplomats all develop personal relationships with their Israeli counterparts. Frankly, this degree of coordination is unprecedented. I have participated in these types of discussions for the last 30 years, and they have never been as intense or focused, reflecting the serious cooperation that we have today with Israel. But our commitment to Israel’s security is defined not by talk. It is defined by the kinds of actions and deeds that help make both of our countries safer and stronger in the face of common threats."
So if you doubt that the United States is tied hand and foot to Israel in terms of its ability to take independent action in the Middle East, just listen to what Dennis Ross, Joe Biden, and Eric Cantor are saying. Does it sound like they are articulating policies beneficial to the US? They are insisting that Americans have to support Israel unquestioningly no matter what it does and are little more than advocates for monsters like Bibi Netanyahu, pure and simple. The word Quisling comes to mind when one thinks of them and also Hoyer and Ros-Lehtinen. If their failure to be truly loyal to the country that has nurtured them brings about a new war in which many of their fellow citizens will die, their actions and posturing should be defined by one and all as treason. If America is to be taken back in a new revolution that will lead to a restoration of the vision of the Founding Fathers it will only take place after the betrayers of our constitution are removed from government, every single one of them. When American politicians and senior government officials speak of their love of a foreign government that pursues policies inimical to US values and interests they should be disowned by every true patriot and also by every respectable media outlet. It should be grounds for their immediate removal.