The unseemly spectacle of an American chief executive denouncing a Democratic presidential candidate in a foreign venue, in front of the parliament of a nation whose interests are inextricably intertwined with the issue at hand, has no precedent in our history. It’s as if, say, Lyndon Baines Johnson had journeyed to South Vietnam and attacked the antiwar movement as "appeasers" before an audience of that country’s rulers. In our Bizarro World universe, however, where all moral and political values have been stood on their heads, this is what passes for "patriotic" and "pro-American" activism on the part of our chief executive upholding the interests of a foreign nation over and above your own.
After hailing the history of the fight for Israeli sovereignty minus any mention of the Nakba, and without so much as obliquely referring to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, the president hit at his political enemies back home:
"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
The White House is now saying these comments were directed at Jimmy Carter, but it seems clear that Barack Obama was who the speechwriters had in mind after all, Carter is about as politically relevant as, say, George W. Bush will be in January. Obama’s answer at the YouTube Democratic debate that, yes, he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmahdinejad, among other world leaders considered unfriendly to the U.S., makes him the obvious target of Bush’s remarks.
What’s interesting, however, is that the senator Bush referred to was a Republican, William E. Borah of Idaho, whose opposition to U.S. intervention in what was then often referred to as "the European war" (i.e., Word War II) was indicative of mainstream GOP opinion circa 1939. One of the great sorrows of Borah’s political career was that he had voted for U.S. entry into the first World War, and he resolved never to make such a grievous error again. Borah fought against the very injustices that led directly to the reanimation of that global conflict, which we call World War II, such as the Treaty of Versailles and the imposition of draconian war debts on a prostrate Germany. Perhaps this explains his intractability. I will leave it to historians to defend Sen. Borah at greater length, but suffice to say here that "the Lion of Idaho" deserves better than this.
Aside from the historical sleight-of-hand, Bush’s blast at Obama over this particular issue from this particular podium is a display of such supreme arrogance and political calculation that it takes one’s breath away. The U.S. has every interest in negotiating with the Iranians, if only to ensure the physical safety of our troops in Iraq, not to mention all the other outstanding issues [.pdf] between the two nations that have festered, unattended, for so long. When we destroyed Iraq’s Ba’athist regime, we handed regional hegemony to Iran on a silver platter, tilting the balance of power in a direction that now cannot be reversed except by negotiation.
Yet negotiation, in Bush’s parlance, is "appeasement." Of course, we have talked to the Iranians, in a series of highly publicized meetings (and probably some not so publicized) over events in Iraq. Was that appeasement? No doubt the Israel lobby considered it so. But are those the interests our president is representing?
This nonsense about "negotiating with terrorists" when it comes to Hamas ought to evoke in my readers a sense of déjà vu. After all, isn’t that the same line they trotted out when it came to the Palestine Liberation Organization and its leader, the late Yasser Arafat? Yet didn’t two American presidents bring Arafat to the negotiating table? And aren’t we now supporting President Abbas, Arafat’s heir and successor?
One has to wonder why an American president would take to the hustings in a foreign land and champion that nation’s interests over and above our own. What treason is this?
Well, it isn’t exactly treason. It’s loyalty to party, as opposed to the nation a Republican Party that has been whittled down to its hard core of Christian fundamentalists whose first loyalty is not to their own country, but to their peculiar theology, which just happens to be based on a fierce allegiance to the government of Israel. For these are no ordinary Christian fundamentalists, say, of the snake-handling type: these are dispensationalists who believe that after the elect are Raptured up into the heavens, the church on earth (the "new dispensation") will consist of the children of Israel, whose in-gathering will have foretold Christ’s second coming. In the dispensationalist theology really, a future history of the world the final battle, Armageddon, will take place between the Israelis and the Forces of Evil. They firmly believe that God and all His angels will stand should-to-shoulder with the IDF.
This is where Bush’s political calculation comes into the picture. For the dispensationalists, there is no issue in the foreign policy realm more important than unconditional support for the state of Israel. They are more fanatically pro-Israel than the Lobby itself, more Likudnik than the Likudniks. Their importance in the rapidly shrinking GOP electoral coalition was made manifest by John McCain’s active pursuit of the Rev. John Hagee, a principal exponent of the "born again" Israel-first line and founder of Christians United for Israel. This is a pastor who drapes an Israeli flag on the altar as he preaches in his 5,000-seat Cornerstone Church.
These are the foot-soldiers of the neocons, the flying monkeys who do the Lobby’s dirty work an army of religious fanatics whose idiosyncratic theological delusions are a major driving force behind American foreign policy in the Middle East. They are not, however, the only such force. Aside from the organizational muscle of the Lobby itself, mostly confined to such groups as AIPAC and the neoconservative network, there is a Democratic Party component that finds the prospect of dealing with Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah utterly horrifying. Many of these people are big contributors to the party, as Wesley Clark pointed out, and one risks a lot by crossing them. By lashing out at Obama in the way he did, Bush seeks to not only unite and energize his Republican base, but to also disrupt and split the Democrats as they struggle with a very difficult primary process.
What is striking about all this is that it gives us a very troubling perspective on how American foreign policy is made much like sausage, in that you don’t really want to know. In response to the endless problems and subtleties that our Middle East dealings confront us with, our president gives us a textbook example of political pandering couched in the crudest sort of rhetoric.
We are living in dangerous times. We have a president who formulates policy prescriptions in terms meant to please a cult of religiously motivated ideologues and foreign lobbyists, both of whom are working in tandem to undermine American interests in the Middle East. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, we have faced an implacable enemy more than ready to take advantage of our one-sided policies when it comes to that region of the world. Yet we continue on the same course on what is essentially a suicide mission solely because of domestic political considerations and without regard for our actual interests.
For years, I’ve been saying and writing that, when it comes to the Middle East, Washington’s policies are ridiculously skewed in Israel’s favor, much to our own detriment. What’s more, it appears that our policy-making apparatus has been hijacked by agents of a foreign power, who are determined to pursue their alien agenda no matter what the consequences for the U.S. Nothing could have underscored this point more emphatically than George W. Bush’s Knesset speech a peroration that surely indicates Bush missed his true calling and somehow wound up as the president of the wrong country.