National Security & Defense

On Israel and Iran, President Obama Mistakes Friend and Foe

(Alex Wong/Getty)
Instead of projecting leadership and defending American values, he has withdrawn from the stage or chosen to trust our enemies.

A month ago, in a speech to the Chicago Global Forum, I argued that the Obama administration’s foreign policy could best be summarized this way: weak and uncertain. The administration indulges our enemies and attacks our friends. In the weeks that followed that speech, the problem has gotten worse and the world has only become more dangerous.

Consider American policy towards Iran, a nation that has waged a relentless campaign of terror and war-by-proxy against U.S. troops and American allies for more than three decades. The administration believes Iran will become a responsible partner for peace once it signs up to a deal that largely leaves in place its nuclear infrastructure. In a region that is in a near-constant state of conflict — with Iran as a primary instigator — this approach is foolish.

It is clear that nothing — not public opinion, not opposition from his own party in Congress, and not even the facts — will deter President Obama from a potentially risky agreement that may well allow Iran to intimidate the entire Middle East, menace Israel, and, most of all, threaten America.

This policy choice is a reflection of the way Obama has handled a range of foreign-policy matters. Instead of projecting American determination and leadership, he has either withdrawn from the stage or chosen to trust our enemies.

When it comes to ISIS, Obama has threatened action but has delivered little support to those fighting against this menace. We are watching helplessly as Yemen – once considered by the Obama administration to be a reliable partner in the war against al-Qaeda and other terror networks — falls into anarchy. And Iraq continues to fall further under Iran’s orbit — a surrender of American influence and an insult to the troops and commanders who sacrificed mightily to stabilize that country.

Even when presented with evidence of treachery committed by the Iranians, the Obama administration turns the other way. Iran was caught cheating on previous agreements related to its nuclear program; Obama officials dismissed the matter, calling it a “mistake” by a low-level employee. Such is the state of the administration’s inability to conduct basic diplomacy: It always believes Iran’s excuses, but never its threats.

Those threats keep coming. Iran’s leaders condemn America and its allies routinely. Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, did so just last Saturday: “Death to America,” he said. This is supposed to be a reliable partner?

The rest of the world must wonder what it takes to enrage the White House.

Apparently, all you have to do is reelect a leader whom the president doesn’t like.

Israel’s elections should be something to celebrate. If only the rest of the region were able to hold peaceful and vibrant multi-party elections . . . 

Yet instead of recognizing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection and the achievement of Israel’s multi-party, multi-ethnic democracy, the White House issued half-hearted congratulations. Then Obama threatened to downgrade the U.S.-Israel relationship and permit a series of anti-Israel resolutions to pass the United Nations Security Council without firm American opposition.

But this is consistent with a pattern of diplomatic scolding of Israel. The Obama administration has insisted that Israel make concessions just to get the Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table. The Obama administration treats announcements of new apartment buildings in Jerusalem like acts of aggression. The Obama administration anonymously insults Israeli leaders personally and then pretends that such insults were never authorized.

This is no way to treat an ally. Conducting the foreign policy of a great nation requires maturity and a strategic sense of America’s long-term interests. This is no time for schoolyard antics.

With Israel, those interests lie in a firm alliance. Israel and America must work together to build a more prosperous and hopeful future for the region. A state for the Palestinian people, side by side with Israel, will be possible only if the Palestinian people are represented by leaders committed to delivering on the promises made at the negotiating table.

Ultimately, the most fruitful efforts for peace come in moments when America’s word is trusted and America’s commitment is certain. Anyone who claims to pursue peace in the region — especially between Israel and her neighbors — must know that Israel will make no sacrifices for peace when she feels threatened.

The future success of American foreign policy in the Middle East — and the world — will require a fresh approach. One that takes to heart the realities of the region. One that rebuilds the friendships we once enjoyed. One that reminds our enemies of our determination. And one that fundamentally believes that when America leads, the world is more stable and America’s security is more certain.

— Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.

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