Caroline B. Glick is the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and the senior fellow for Middle East Affairs at the Center for Security Policy. Her book, Shackled Warrior, Israel and the Global Jihad was released earlier this year. She took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez on Friday about Barack Obama’s visit to the Mideast.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Am I wrong in saying that Barack Obama did not impress Israel?
Caroline Glick: Israelis are very caught up with our local news right now. Foremost on our national agenda are the seven criminal probes being carried out against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the political maneuvering surrounding those investigations, and the expectation of new elections or some governmental shake-up in the wake of Olmert’s likely indictment on fraud charges. Consequently, Obama’s visit didn’t evoke any deep-seated interest in Israel.
At the same time, he didn’t make any serious mistakes during his visit so to the extent he made any impression, he made a positive one. There is trepidation in Israel about the statements he has made about Iran and the division of Jerusalem and his associations with anti-Semites like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But the media wasn’t given much opportunity to challenge him on these points and so the trepidation was not dispelled. But again, Israelis by and large just weren’t that into him.
Lopez: What was the point of the trip there so far as you can tell?
Glick: The point of the trip was clearly to shore up support for Obama among American Jewish voters. It is hard to know whether he was successful in doing so or not, although he certainly didn’t hurt himself among those who already support him.
His repeated assertions of his commitment to Israel’s security were repeatedly contradicted by the policies he wishes to adopt if elected. On the one hand he opposes permitting Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but on the other hand, he insists that the way to make this happen is to sit down and talk to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has made annihilating the Jewish state one of his main goals in office. He says he understands Israel’s need to protect its citizens from terror attacks but then he says that Israel’s interests are served by strengthening the Palestinian terror groups by extending Palestinian sovereignty from Gaza to the West Bank. Gaza is ruled by jihadists from Hamas who are bankrolled, trained and armed by Iran. How are Israel’s interests served by importing jihadist control to the outskirts of Tel-Aviv and to Jerusalem?
Then again, like Israeli Jews, American Jews are not too caught up in details. He said he supports Israel and got his picture taken at Yad Vashem and the Wailing Wall wearing a kippa. So he probably succeeded in pulling more American Jews into his camp of supporters.
Lopez: How close did you get to the “messiah”?
Glick: I generally try to stay as far away as I possibly can from people who say they can make oceans recede. Our paths didn’t cross. In fact, I managed to be out of the country on Wednesday.
Lopez: How did the Palestinians take to him?
Glick: They were certainly gratified that unlike Senator John McCain, Obama made the trip to Ramallah and had his picture taken with Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas against the backdrop of Yasser Arafat’s photograph. It is hard though to know if Obama’s trip changed the Palestinians’ impression of him. It is already clear, and has been for months that the Palestinians, like the Arab world (minus Iraq) prefer Obama to McCain because they view him as sympathetic to their war against Israel and their hostility towards the U.S. and the rest of the West. But he was in Israel for such a short time that it is hard to say that his visit excited anyone.
Lopez: Does he remind you of anyone?
Glick: Obama acts like a European leader in his treatment of Israel. On the one hand, he professes this profound respect for Israel and the Jews, and goes on and on about how our security is important to him. On the other hand, he espouses policies that undermine Israeli security and threaten its survival, and demands that the Jewish state become the only state that turns its other cheek towards our enemies as they try to kill us. This is the same sort of message that we hear from all Europeans leaders. And it is tiresome and insulting.
Beyond that, Obama is in a unique situation because of the adulation he enjoys from the U.S. and Western media. The media is willing to ignore all of the substantive contradictions inherent in his policy pronouncements and to base their support for him on a quasi-religious faith. I don’t remember this ever happening before in an American election — at least not to the same extent. It is an interesting sociological phenomenon that is worthy of academic research. On a political level, it makes debate very difficult since Obama is treated more as a symbol than a politician. And it is hard to debate a symbol.
Lopez: What the heck happened at the Wailing Wall?
Glick: That depends who you read. In Israel, the story was presented as “an ugly Israeli” story. People were rude and heckled him at the Wall, someone removed his note. Israelis are mean and rude to visitors, end of story.
In the U.S. blogosphere especially, the story was cast as angry Jews yelling at Obama for his desire to transfer sovereignty over parts of Israel’s capital city to the Palestinians.
What is clear is that Obama wrote the following prayer that he placed in the Wall, “Lord, Protect my family and me. Forgive my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.”
This was supposed to be a private benediction, and it was extraordinarily improper for someone to take this prayer and sell it to the media. On the other hand, in the world of paparazzi, the exposure of the prayer was predictable, and Obama apparently constructed the prayer for public consumption. Like everything else about his visit, this was a carefully crafted statement, designed not to ruffle very many feathers. And like this prayer, there was nothing extraordinary about Obama’s visit. As you would expect from a politician, he tried to be all things to all people. And he probably succeeded.
Lopez: Were there campaign signs there?
Glick: Apparently there were a few, but the Israeli media didn’t pay much attention. Again, we’re basically scope-locked on the corruption investigations of the prime minister.
Lopez: Did he get his Jerusalem answer wrong?
Glick: Israelis don’t support making any concessions on our sovereignty over Jerusalem and so his answer won him no support among most Israelis. But again, no one challenged him much on the issue and no one really cared that deeply about what he thinks about much of anything other than Iran.
Lopez: What is Israel looking for in an American president?
Glick: We’re looking for someone whose policies reflect an understanding of the real security threats facing Israel and the United States. We’re looking for a president who understands that Israel is the frontline state in the global jihad and as a consequence, it has to have support as it defends itself and acts as the frontline of the U.S. defense perimeter. That is, we’re looking for a president who understands that Israel is a valuable ally and that America’s national security is directly linked to Israel’s because our enemies are the same. It is this sort of president that will understand that standing with Israel and strengthening the alliance isn’t a matter of platitudes designed to get Jewish voter support and disposed of when constructing real policy, but, rather, a real commitment to U.S. and Israeli security needs.
Bush projected this understanding in the 2004 election which is why some 75 percent of Israelis enthusiastically supported his reelection.
Lopez: Does Obama have it?
Glick: No, Obama doesn’t have it. His statements about Iraq being a “diversion” alone are proof that he fundamentally refuses to acknowledge that there is a global jihad raging, that Israel is a frontline state in the jihad and that the U.S. cannot allow jihadists to gain control of any territory and particularly territory as strategically vital as Iraq or Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Obama is a quintessential leftist who thinks that war can be wished away by blaming the U.S. for its enemies’ hatred and malicious designs. This is the type of person who will push very hard not only for America to stand down from the war and ask the Iranians for forgiveness while enabling them to get the bomb, but will blame Israel for the Arab world’s refusal to accept its right to exist.
Lopez: What’s the best-case President Obama scenario from where you sit? Worst-case?
Glick: The best-case scenario is that Obama is willing to learn from the Bush administration’s mistakes in attempting to appease the Palestinians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans. Such an Obama administration would recognize that its liberal formulations are fundamentally misguided and abandon them in favor of reality-based policies. Given Obama’s stubborn refusal to admit he was wrong about the surge and his insistence that he can strike a deal with Ahmadinejad, the likelihood of this happening is about zero.
The worst-case scenario is that Obama actually bases his foreign policy on his ideological beliefs. If he does that, he will leave Iraq prematurely and so enable Iran’s effective takeover of the country through its Shiite proxies.
He will botch up Afghanistan and end up enabling an open jihadist takeover of nuclear-armed Pakistan.
He will negotiate with Ahmadinejad, giving Iran the time and political cover to complete its nuclear program and test its nuclear weapon, and he will then refuse to assist Israel in attacking the Iranian nuclear program thus escalating the threat of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel and Iranian nuclear blackmail of the Middle East and Europe.
He will press Israel to curtail its counter-terror activities towards the Palestinians and so enable a Hamas-Iranian takeover of the West Bank. This in turn will precipitate the expansion of the missile war against Israel from Gaza to the West Bank and so place Israel’s major urban centers and its international airport at risk.
While he will simply roll over a left-leaning Israeli government like the current one while protesting his enduring commitment to Israel’s security, if a Likud-led government is installed during his tenure and tries to extricate Israel from the failed “land-for-peace,” policy paradigm while gearing up to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, he will treat the government with hostility and strengthen the position of Israel’s enemies in his administration. This in turn will weaken the social and political standing of American Jews who will find themselves under unprecedented and unjustified suspicion of disloyalty due to their support for Israel.
As in all things, the reality of an Obama presidency is difficult to predict and may well fall somewhere between these two extremes.