US President Barack Obama..
(photo credit: AP)
President Barack Obama is feeling the heat. His response to the current
crisis threatening to sink his one-year-old presidency is telling for
what it says about the future of both his domestic and foreign
policies. Israel should take heed of his responses.
Democratic Party, and indeed the US political establishment as a whole,
received a jolt on Tuesday when Republican Scott Brown won the
Massachusetts seat in the US Senate that had been held by the
Democratic Kennedy dynasty since 1952. The question now on everyone's
lips is whether Brown's stunning victory will cause Obama to change his
course and moderate his policies.
The Massachusetts Senate race was a real world example of what
opinion polling data has shown. Since last summer, a consistently
growing number of US voters oppose Obama's policies.
Brown's victory was nationally significant because it removed
the Democrats' filibuster proof, 60-man super-majority in the Senate.
With Brown as the 41st Republican senator, the minority party can now
muster the votes to block legislation from being called to a vote
before the full Senate and so prevent laws from being passed.
In addition to its immediate legislative
significance, the larger political importance of the Massachusetts
election rests in what it signals for House and Senate Democrats who
will face reelection in November. Dozens of Democratic lawmakers are
reportedly now veering into full-blown panics about their prospects in
those elections. As Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh put it, "If you lose
Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call, there's no hope of waking
Tellingly, Obama and his White House advisers are refusing to
"wake up." Obama responded to Brown's win as he has to many of his
setbacks since assuming office a year ago this week. He blamed his
predecessor, George W. Bush.
an interview on Wednesday with ABC News, Obama said, "People are angry,
they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last
year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."
Obama argued that the growing unpopularity of his programs is due not
to substance, but to style. As he put it, "We were so busy just getting
stuff done... that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking
directly to the American people about what their core values are and
why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those
Even as Democratic lawmakers are openly expressing misgivings
with moving forward in implementing Obama's radical plan to reform the
US health care industry, Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod told the
media that abandoning the initiative is "not an option."
Rather than accept that Massachusetts voters elected Brown
because Brown repudiated Obama's agenda - on both domestic and foreign
policy - the Obama White House has argued that Brown's victory was
simply the consequence of poor electioneering by the Democratic
candidate and poor planning by the national Democratic Party apparatus.
Obama's imperiousness is even more apparent when compared to
the behavior of his predecessors in office. When in 2006 the
Republicans lost control of Congress, George W. Bush responded by
embracing the Democrats' policies on everything from Iran to mortgage
banks. When the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, Bill
Clinton adopted the Republicans' "Contract with America" as his own.
What Obama's refusal to hear Tuesday's "wake-up call" from
Massachusetts shows is that his chief concern is not listening to what
the public says. It is not even remaining in office. Rather, his
behavior in the wake of the Brown victory shows that Obama's top
concern is enacting his radical political agenda. He is an ideologue
first and a party leader second.
While his fellow Democrats in Congress say that Brown's
election means that Obama's plan to nationalize one-sixth of the US
economy through his health care plan is dead in the water, Obama claims
the time to move forward is now. As he sees things, he has 11 months
left to effect the radical change he seeks for America. Obama believes
that plowing ahead is the only thing that will save the Democrats. As
he has put it, "I... know what happens once we get... [health care
reform] done. The American people will suddenly learn that this bill
does things they like."
Far from slowing down, he will redouble his efforts to ram his agenda down the throats of an unwilling populace.
ELECTIONS ARE blunt instruments, not precise readings. Voters
cast their ballots for specific politicians and their political parties
based on their wide perceptions of general trends rather than on
specific policies related to specific issues. Candidates in turn
emphasize specific issues because of what those issues symbolize about
the general state of affairs.
In the US today, there is a widespread public
perception that Obama and his party colleagues in the House and Senate
have gone on a spending spree when what the deepening economic
recession requires is frugality. Obama's plan to spend up to a trillion
dollars on nationalized health care in this economic environment is
emblematic of the public sense that the national leadership is behaving
A similar view pervades with respect to Obama's foreign policy.
Speaking to National Review
, Brown's chief political
strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said that "terrorism and the treatment of
enemy combatants" was a "more potent issue" for Massachusetts voters
than health care. If health care is emblematic of the growing
perception that Obama and his fellow Democrats are irresponsible on the
domestic policy front, so "terrorism and the treatment of enemy
combatants" are emblematic of the public perception that Obama's
foreign policy is too weak.
The administration's failure to detect, prevent or adequately
characterize the jihadist massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, like its
failure to detect, prevent or adequately handle the aftermath of the
attempted airline bombing on Christmas day by a Nigerian jihadist, are
viewed by Americans as proof that Obama's foreign policy is weak and
As with his domestic agenda, in foreign affairs
as well, the clear antidote to Obama's political woes would be to
change course and moderate his policies. Were Obama interested in
ensuring that the public supported and trusted his handling of American
foreign policy, he would repudiate his plan to transfer terrorists now
jailed at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen and cancel his plan to try senior
terrorists like September 11 architect Khaled Sheikh Muhammad in
rather than do so, Obama has responded to the public's opposition to
his foreign policies by doubling down. In the face of massive criticism
over his administration's decision to try the September 11 mastermind
in a civilian courtroom in New York, the administration opted to treat
the Christmas bomber as a criminal defendant as well. Indeed, as its
top counterterror officials made clear in Senate testimony on
Wednesday, the administration never considered treating the terrorist
as an illegal enemy combatant.
In a related matter, on Wednesday the State
Department announced that the US has dropped its opposition to
permitting Islamist leader Tariq Ramadan from entering the US. Ramadan
- whose grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood which spawned the
likes of al-Qaida and Hamas - is a hero of the far Left in the US and
Europe. He was barred from entering the US since 2004 due in part to
his personal contributions to Hamas.
In short then, rather than respond to the public's rejection of
his posture of weakness abroad by replacing that posture with one of
strength, Obama has ratcheted up his policy of weakness. What this
shows is that like his domestic agenda, Obama's foreign policy -
including his national security policy - is the product of his firmly
held beliefs and ideological commitments. Obama is weak on foreign
affairs because he chooses to be weak. Through both his actions and his
words he demonstrates his belief that the US must adopt a posture of
contrition to make up for its past global leadership. His goal is to
weaken America's position in the international arena, because he
doesn't believe that America has a moral right to be stronger than
Given the congressional backlash to the Massachusetts election,
it is possible that Obama will be compelled to put aside his domestic
initiatives, or at least to repackage them. US presidents have only a
limited capacity to unilaterally implement massive changes on the
domestic front. Congressional support is required for most major
endeavors. Today, it seems likely that many Democratic lawmakers will
refuse to fall on their swords for Obama. So his health care
initiative, like his environmental and immigration agendas, may well be
buried in committee.
On the other hand, the US Constitution gives the
president a much freer hand in foreign affairs. And here we are likely
to see a full-court presidential press to force through his radical
agenda on everything from nuclear weapons to counterterrorism to
appeasement of the Islamic world. Given the prominence Obama has
already given to his anti-Israel posture, it can be assumed that Israel
will be the focus of even more intense pressure from the White House in
the months and years to come.
of this should concentrate the minds of Israel's leaders. They should
assume that Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell will intensify
his pressure - and escalate his threats - on Israel to make massive
concessions to the Palestinians. Indeed, given Mitchell's trip this
week to Lebanon and Syria and Obama's refusal to end his appeasement
overtures towards Iran, Israel should expect the US to expand its
pressure on Israel to agree to imperil itself on all fronts.
SINCE TAKING office on March 31, the Netanyahu government has
adopted two distinct policies for dealing with Obama. Until September,
the government's policy was to politely delay as long as possible its
ultimate polite refusal to accept US demands for more concessions to
After Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting with Obama at
the UN in September, however, he adopted a new policy of caving in to
US pressure. First he reiterated his support for Palestinian statehood.
Then he agreed to bar Jews from receiving construction permits in Judea
and Samaria. Apparently, Netanyahu was led to believe that his
concessions would cause Obama to ease his pressure on Israel.
But as the White House's escalating threats and demands for new
Israeli concessions in the wake of Netanyahu's change of course
demonstrates, Israel's policy shift was counterproductive. And given
Obama's current political trajectory, Israel will be best served by a
return to the government's initial policy. Rather than seeking to
placate Obama, Israel should try to wait him out. And at the same time,
the government should robustly advance Israel's national interests,
both by unapologetically defending those interests in the diplomatic
arena, and more importantly by adopting policies and taking action to
secure and strengthen the country.
The political winds in America are blowing against Obama. Even
with his relatively free hand in foreign affairs, the ill winds will
necessarily slow him down. Israel should do nothing to smooth his path