La la in the Oval Office


Political analysis is best with moderation. Objectivity is not in the cards, insofar as information is partial and bound to be partisan. It helps to recognize differences in perspective. Extreme partisanship might win applause in some circles, but invites ridicule in others.

Also important is to recognize sources of power, to be modest in criticizing those who can hurt oneself or the things that are important. It is dangerous to heap scorn on someone who has the capacity to bite back with damaging effect.

But there are times when it seems appropriate to loosen the brakes.

Now is one of those. The American White House is being run by someone who sees a la la land when looking at the world.

Barack Obama is not the first to couple naivete with great power. Predecessors in the same style were Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, each with their peculiar wrinkles. All fell far from the savvy about international politics in the combo of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. True, their peculiarities also provided reasons for scorn. We''re talking about political wisdom, not political heaven. The Nixon-Kissinger duo stands as political giants alongside Carter-GW Bush-Obama-Kerry midgets.

The Middle East may have been a better place with Saddam, Qaddafi, Mubarak, and Assad than anything produced by American Presidents who have acted more like Sunday School teachers than political realists.

A few recent items capture the essence of Obama at his worst.

A view of history that puts Muslims at the center of those who have created American democracy.

“In the United States, Eid also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy,”

That may appeal with some who value fluff on a religious holiday, but it is a long way from anything close to historical reality.

A telephone conversation (or dictate) between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Barack Obama: "I demand that Israel agrees to an immediate, unilateral ceasefire and halt all offensive activities, in particular airstrikes."

Benjamin Netanyahu: "And what will Israel receive in exchange for a ceasefire?"

BO: "I believe that Hamas will cease its rocket fire — silence will be met with silence."

BN:  "Hamas broke all five previous ceasefires. It’s a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel."

BO: "I repeat and expect Israel to stop all its military activities unilaterally. The pictures of destruction in Gaza distance the world from Israel’s position."

BN: "Kerry’s proposal was completely unrealistic and gives Hamas military and diplomatic advantages."

BO: "Within a week of the end of Israel’s military activities, Qatar and Turkey will begin negotiations with Hamas based on the 2012 understandings, including Israel’s commitment to removing the siege and restrictions on Gaza."

BN: "Qatar and Turkey are the biggest supporters of Hamas. It’s impossible to rely on them to be fair mediators."

BO: "I trust Qatar and Turkey. Israel is not in the position that it can choose its mediators."

BN: "I protest because Hamas can continue to launch rockets and use tunnels for terror attacks –"

BO: (interrupting Netanyahu) "The ball’s in Israel’s court, and it must end all its military activities."

White House sources have called this a fabrication, but the journalist who reported it is one of Israel''s most respected, middle of the road reporters. The same journalist reported a week or so ago that Obama said that he would "pull the plug" on Israel when Palestinian deaths reach 1,000.
That journalist asserts that his source is American. Most likely it comes from someone in the White House with access to the Oval Office, suggesting that the big boss is not all powerful among those saying, "Yes, Mr. President." 
Several days after this conversation was said to have occurred, the White House and State Department joined with UN sources and a few of the world''s nasties in condemning Israel in response to reports about civilian casualties, without time to inquire if they resulted from Israel or Hamas missiles, or if Israel may have been justified in attacking a site used by Hamas for its attacks on Israel.
Judging Obama politically and psychologically will be a long and contentious process, providing employment for professionals long after we can no longer read. He knows how to speak, but often not what to say.

Even more dangerous than what he has said to White House aides or to the Israeli Prime Minister may be his posture with respect to who should be a mediator to produce a cease fire between Israel and Hamas.

Picking Turkey as one of the mediators to be forced on Israel fails on several points. Its leadership has been trading insults with the peak of the Egyptian regime which by virtue of geography and power must be a key player in whatever happens. Moreover, Turkey may be the last country on earth acceptable to Israel. In recent weeks Turkey''s Prime Minister has said that Israel''s actions are "more barbaric than Hitler," and that Israel''s face is "covered with the blood of innocent children."

Qatar is the principal source of Hamas funds, and has been accused by Egypt of fomenting revolution against it via the Muslim Brotherhood.


Tussling with the US President is not something that an Israeli leader does lightly. At stake is political, economic, and material support. The Nixon-Kissinger team demonstrated the power during a crucial point in the 1973 war by delaying the supply of essential munitions.

Currently, however, Israel''s back is not so much against the wall as in October of 1973. Politically, it has Egypt and Saudi Arabia in its corner, and is in better shape with a number of western governments (e.g., France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia) than with the Obama White House. The military-industrial-political complex of the US is not one monolith. Israel has friends in Congress, and its economy is not as dependent on gifts as it was in the 1970s,.The White House has important leverage, but the larger Executive Branch may not be united behind the man in the Oval Office. And every once in a while, the President and his Secretary of State speak with empathy about Israel''s activity. Recent reports indicate that the US has honored Israel''s supply requests. 

Israel may have to be satisfied with the damage and carnage, and the wariness of Hamas to begin another round of fighting, rather than any clear commitments about de-militarization and a firm control of imports into Gaza.

It is not promising that sentiment is building (in Israel as well as among Arabs, Americans, and Europeans) to give Mahmoud Abbas a major role in Gaza. He has trouble making decisions, except perhaps to assure that his son gets a major financial concession in the West Bank. The old man has limited support in his home base, even less in Gaza, and has remained in office five and one-half years after his term expired. He hardly seems an appropriate candidate for any serious work.

Israel will have to cope with assertions about war crimes. Palestinians have been promising to lock up Israeli officials along with the worst of the war criminals. UNRWA personnel have been certain that Israel violated its refuges for civilians. Yet Israel will find those who listen and give credence to assertions of Hamas using those locations for its military purposes, and to evidence about the civilian deaths that resulted directly from Hamas missiles.

We are concerned about increased isolation, a bad name on campuses and international media, and feverish calls for punishment. There will also be demands within Israel for investigating specific instances. 

Some of our most promising young men have been killed. Few of us feel pride in the Palestinians killed or the property destroyed. However, the Israeli public is as united in support of its overall justification and performance as in any war since 1967.