Oren: Obama's abandonment by Muslim father figures may explain policies

Former Israeli envoy to US pens op-ed for 'Foreign Policy' in which he dissects the origins of Obama's policy in Middle East.

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June 21, 2015 13:29
Michael Oren Barack Obama

Michael Oren and Barack Obama. (photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)

Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, whose book on his experience in Washington is due out on Tuesday, continues to ruffle feathers by criticizing US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies in op-ed pieces in the US press.

In a piece on Friday in Foreign Policy, Oren – who left Washington on October 1, 2013, and is now a Kulanu MK – charged that Obama was naïve as a peacemaker, had blinders to terrorism and that his abandonment by both his Muslim father and step-father had something to do with his desire to be accepted by their “co-religionists.”

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And in a Friday piece in the Los Angeles Times, he argued that one major difference between Israel and the US on Iran, was that while Israel viewed Iran as an irrational actor, Obama views them as a rational one.

In the Foreign Policy piece, Oren took Obama to task for not joining the solidarity march in France after the attack on Charlie Hebdo or the kosher supermarket earlier this year, nor for sending two senior officials who were in Paris at the time to the march. He also took the president to task for not admitting that the attack on the kosher market was not directed a Jews, but rather an act perpetrated by “vicious zealots who... randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli.”

“Obama’s boycotting of the memorial in Paris, like his refusal to acknowledge the identity of the perpetrators, the victims or even the location of the market massacre, provides a broad window into his thinking on Islam and the Middle East. Simply put: The president could not participate in a protest against Muslim radicals whose motivations he sees as a distortion, rather than a radical interpretation, of Islam,” he wrote. “ And if there are no terrorists spurred by Islam, there can be no purposely selected Jewish shop or intended Jewish victims, only a deli and randomly present folks.”

According to Oren, who said he scoured Obama’s speeches, interviews, memoirs and writings upon taking up his job as ambassador to understand the president’s world view, said that he claimed he personally “represented the bridge between the Muslim world and the West.”

During his first year in office, Obama, Oren argued, offered in essence “a new deal in which the United States would respect popularly chosen Muslim leaders who were authentically rooted in their traditions and willing to engage with the West.”

The former ambassador said this explained why Obama restored diplomatic ties with Syria, severed by his predecessor George W. Bush after the assassination of former Lebanese president Rafik Hariri; why he engaged in outreach to Libya and Iran; and why he stood by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

“Erdogan and Morsi were both devout Muslims, democratically elected and accepting of Obama’s outstretched hand.

So, too, was Hassan Rouhani, who became Obama’s partner in seeking a negotiated settlement of the Iranian nuclear dispute,” he wrote.

Oren attributed this orientation to the intellectual milieu in which Obama grew up, as well as his personal history.

“I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.”

In the Los Angeles Times piece, headlined “Why Obama is wrong about Iran being ‘rational’ on nukes,” Oren quoted Obama’s comment in a recent interview that being anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude one from being interested in survival, and that just because Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is anti-Semitic “doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.”

Oren wrote that the dispute whether Iran was a rational or irrational actor was “ever-present” in the discussions between the US and Israel when he was ambassador. While the Americans view the Iranians as logical actors, Israel could not rule out the idea that “the Iranians would be willing to sacrifice half of their people as martyrs in a war intended to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’” His Friday opinion pieces were denounced across the political spectrum on Sunday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) told Walla News that Oren “does not represent the State of Israel in matters relating to our relationship with the United States, only himself. The United States is a true friend of Israel and every attempt to harm the relationship between the two countries by resorting to personal attacks will not succeed.”

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), known in the past for having made some comments deemed “undiplomatic,” also took Oren to task saying, “I would expect that a senior diplomat who was the ambassador to Washington continue to be a diplomat also after he enters politics.”

And MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said in an Army Radio interview that it was expected that diplomats will not write books “the minute they leave their position.”

Lapid said Oren was causing damage to Israel-US ties at time when they were already damaged, and added that his comments about Obama’s upbringing influencing his outlook on the Muslim world was “utter nonsense,” because “it is a pseudopsychological analysis not based on anything.”

Former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon defended Oren, telling the Jerusalem-based talk radio network VoiceofIsrael.

com that Oren “should not be the fall guy” for problems in the US-Israel relationship that are Obama’s fault. Ayalon called the Obama administration’s criticism of Oren “brutal.”

“At such a sensitive time in US-Israel relations, there should not have been daylight,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon also criticized Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon for distancing himself from Oren and writing Obama to apologize.

The Kulanu faction does not intend to discuss Oren’s book when it meets Monday. The head of the faction, MK Roy Folkman, said Oren’s views were his alone and do not represent the views of the faction or its members.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.


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