White House chief of staff Denis McDonough recently spoke to J Street, a left-wing organization that fancies itself the headquarters of the tough-love-for-Israel crowd. J Street’s critics would phrase it a bit differently. In a charitable mood, they’d say J Street is all about loving Israel to death.
Regardless, J Street is the perfect think tank for the Obama administration to get its message out. Which is why McDonough was there to deliver harsh criticism of Israel and to signal that the U.S., under President Obama at least, will not be as reliable an ally to Israel as it once was, particularly at the United Nations.
The ostensible reason for the breakdown in relations is that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won reelection by saying things the White House didn’t like. Specifically, Netanyahu said that there would not be a two-state solution on his watch if he was reelected. Netanyahu’s point was merely that given the current circumstances in the Middle East and the disastrous experience of handing Gaza to Hamas, it’s unlikely we’d see a two-state solution anytime soon. But even if you were inclined to read something more nefarious into his remarks, Netanyahu has since modified — or “walked back,” as they say in diplomatic circles — his statement.
Too bad, says the White House. Bibi said what he said. “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made,” McDonough told the crowd at J Street.
There’s nothing in the news accounts about whether the J Street audience burst into laughter or even if McDonough intended this as a laugh line. But intentional or not, it is hilarious.
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For if there is one thing we know about Obama, it is this: He is very good at ignoring things he wants to ignore. If he were a superhero, he might be The Ignorator or perhaps Dr. Ignoro, complete with a cape, a giant “I” on his chest, and his signature blinders blocking out all the inconvenient bits of life.
While the White House claims that it cannot pretend Netanyahu didn’t make those remarks, it has no problem playing make-believe with comments from Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (currently serving out the 10th year of his four-year term), who has repeatedly said the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas, who literally has a Ph.D. in Holocaust denial, is what counts as a Palestinian moderate. Nonetheless, he formed a unity government with Hamas, the terrorist group openly determined to slaughter the Israelis.
But such facts are no match for Obama’s limitless powers to pretend away annoying details. Why, just last week, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, responded to chants of “Death to America” by saying, “Of course, yes, death to America.” The White House is pretending he didn’t make such comments. And when the administration gets a deal with the Iranians on their nuclear program, the president will take it to the U.N., not the Senate, because ignoring Congress — and the Constitution — is simply what he does on days that end with “y.”
Barely six months ago, Obama cited Yemen as a great example of how successful his counterterrorism approach is. This week, as Yemen spiraled toward civil war and American military forces fled, Obama went golfing, ignoring the whole mess. (For Dr. Ignoro, the golf course is like his Batcave or Fortress of Solitude).
When his own advisers, military and civilian, warned Obama that fully bugging out of Iraq would be calamitous, leaving a vacuum for terrorists and Iranian meddling, the president ignored the advice and pretended everything was fine.
When a reporter for The New Yorker asked him about the Islamic State gobbling up Iraq, Obama explained why they should be ignored: They’re just a “jayvee team,” he said.
Obama is at his best when ignoring his own comments. His “red lines” are drawn in disappearing ink as far as he’s concerned. Twenty-two times Obama said he didn’t have the authority to unilaterally legalize immigrants. He did it anyway. You can keep your doctor and your insurance, he said — before he stopped saying it.
So the notion this White House can’t pretend Netanyahu didn’t say what he said is simply hilarious, particularly given that what Netanyahu has said isn’t what the White House is pretending to hear.
Of course, no informed person believes the White House is angry about how Netanyahu won reelection. It’s angry that he was reelected at all (unsurprising, given that Obama’s political allies worked to oust him). Obama detests Netanyahu and is letting that animosity poison a strategic alliance. He is making that choice while pretending he isn’t. That’s what he does.
— Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC