During his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House yesterday, President Obama stated that the “security of Israel is one of my top foreign-policy priorities.” Of course, this sentiment might have been slightly more believable had President Obama a) said those words in something other than a lethargic tone, or b) not listened to Netanyahu’s statement with the humor of a human death star
Although Netanyahu claims that the meeting was productive, major problems continue to corrode U.S.-Israeli relations.
Front and center is President Obama’s flawed approach to dealing with Israel. On crucial issues, the White House continues to treat Netanyahu’s government disdainfully and as irrelevant to its Middle Eastern policy. The Obama administration has long acted grumpily toward Israel. Consider former Middle East adviser Dennis Ross’s perspective on the idiotic accusation of racism Susan Rice lobbed against Netanyahu. According to Ross, Rice believed that “the Israeli leader did everything but ‘use the N-word in describing the president.”
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Yet this isn’t just about credibility and confidence. It’s also about President Obama’s failure to collectively challenge the shared adversaries facing Israel and America. Today, as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian revolutionaries wage war against Israel, the U.S. sits silent. Today, Obama’s earlier actions against Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah are distant memories. The White House is now talking a good game about closer partnerships, but such partnerships cannot exist solely through oratory. Even while highlighting significant disagreements on issues like settlement construction in the West Bank, the Obama administration could be doing far more to support joined interests with Israel.
The White House is aware of this dynamic — or at least it should be — yet its petulance-policy only energizes hardliners in Netanyahu’s government. Ironically, the petulance will be ultimately self-defeating in that it will force Netanyahu to play to his hardliners rather than compromise with Obama. Remember, as a prime minister, Netanyahu’s executive power is tied to the impulses of his cabinet in any one moment. This is something Obama ignores when he leaks hectoring complaints about the prime minister in public.
Ultimately, the pretense of good relations on display yesterday reflects a basic calculation by both leaders. Neither trusting nor liking each other, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have decided to pursue their own agendas, ignore their differences, and hope for the best. But as the senior partner in the alliance, Obama has the first responsibility to develop a more constructive approach. But then again, this is the Middle East. And in the Middle East today, American policy is an unfunny joke.