Don’t Criticize Obama for Being Too Rational About Israel

July 26, 2012 | By
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U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Writing in Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller sketches a short history of America’s relationship with Israel, summarizing some of its low points, like “Dwight Eisenhower’s threat to sanction Israel after its 1956 invasion of Sinai, Richard Nixon’s threat to do the same if Israel didn’t attend the Geneva conference in 1973, the flap between Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Menachem Begin over the president’s 1982 Middle East peace initiative, and George H.W. Bush’s war with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir over settlements.” This context is welcome given the frequency with which conservatives suggest that President Obama’s attitude toward the country is uniquely combative.

Miller goes on to argue that America is nevertheless at another low point in our relationship with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu’s flaws are acknowledged to play a part. “He’s an ambivalent leader pulled by party, tribe, and family on one hand, and by the need to be loved and successful on the other,” Miller writes. “His policies, particularly on settlements and peacemaking, seem half-hearted and tentative.” Then it comes time to discuss Obama’s role in the relationship: “I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.”

Is that supposed to be a bad thing?

“My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well,” Miller states. So the ostensible problem isn’t that he dislikes Israel, or disrespects it, or isn’t attuned to its perspective, but that he’d treat it as “somewhat less special.” Is the relationship supposed to be a romance? The frequency with which words like “special” enter these conversations that confound me. I desire Israel’s ongoing security and prosperity, and recognize the uniqueness of the threats to it. But I don’t want security and prosperity for Israel any more than I want it for Japan, France, Taiwan, Britain, Poland, Mexico, New Zealand, and India. Why would I? All are democratic peoples.

The fact that President Obama wants to treat Israel like lots of other democratic allies, and has no special emotional attachment to Israel, is treated as if it is self-evidently problematic.

Read more: The Atlantic


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