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The Obama administration says it won’t tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon. It has given no one any reason to believe that. The credibility of the administration’s oft-stated intolerance for new Israeli residences, on the other hand, is intact and unassailable.
Over the issue of Israeli settlements, the administration is willing to force a diplomatic crisis. It is willing to berate and belittle. It is willing to give visiting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a reception at the White House icier than that granted the Salahis, the infamous party crashers. On settlements, Barack Obama is Churchillian, resisting them on the beaches, in the fields, and in the streets.
To call the administration’s reaction to the Israeli announcement of the next stage in planning for 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem disproportionate is a rank understatement. It’s perverse.
The housing is in north Jerusalem, in a historically Jewish neighborhood no negotiations have ever contemplated handing over to a Palestinian state. The Obama administration believes a cram-down of a settlement halt is the necessary first step to a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a doctrinal fixity impervious to contrary evidence.
The administration can’t even get the Palestinians to agree to talk with the Israelis directly, something that occurred routinely in the Bush years. The Palestinians understandably won’t negotiate so long as they believe the U.S. will strong-arm the Israelis into concessions.
It’s appropriate that Netanyahu came to Washington for his ritual humiliation — don’t let the side door of the White House hit you on the way out — simultaneous with the passage of health-care reform. The Europeanization of American domestic policy will proceed in tandem with — and eventually compel — the Europeanization of American foreign policy.
Like the Europeans, Obama is adopting the Arab narrative of the Middle East, wherein Israeli perfidy is responsible for all that ails the region. The administration’s broadsides against the Jewish state could have been delivered by Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb, who’s always up for a good chiding of the nasty Israelis.
The Europeans congratulate themselves on the realism of their “evenhandedness.” But it is the realpolitik of weakness. It heaps scorn on an embattled outpost of the West while appeasing the terror states and tin-pot dictators that assail it.
It’s not hard to imagine a future when we have drawn down considerably in Afghanistan (Obama announced an intended start date of July 2011), we’re out of Iraq, Iran has a nuclear weapon, our relationship with Israel is cold to the point of broken, we no longer seriously promote democracy abroad, and we are facing a fiscal crisis at home that pressures our foreign commitments and military budget (which has been notably absent from the historic geyser of new federal spending Obama has unleashed since January 2009).
The Congressional Budget Office now estimates another $5 trillion of debt under Obama’s budget by 2020, when debt held by the public will reach 90 percent of GDP. We all know where Obama’s heart would be in any true contest between guns and butter. In his rhetoric at the culmination of the health-care debate, he talked of the extension of the social welfare state in heroic terms, as in keeping with the American spirit of striving and adventure. This represents the turning inward of the country’s missionary spirit, to make the country not so much a beacon of liberty — as Thomas Jefferson had it — but a beacon of social justice.
Turning back any of this expansion would represent a betrayal. It’ll be much easier to shrink the definition of our interests and values abroad and, over time, diminish the resources devoted to protecting them. Tiny allies in faraway places will become less important. Our global influence will recede as we — like the Europeans — sink into the enervating comforts of the welfare state.
Obama has aptly compared the ship of state to an ocean liner. It turns only slowly, but it’s turning.
– Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.