Obama’s very small stick

Pres­i­dent’s strong rhetoric on Is­rael rings hol­low

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

Pres­i­dent Obama says he has Is­rael’s back. The ques­tion now is whether any­one be­lieves him. On Mon­day, at a White House meet­ing with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, Mr. Obama re­it­er­ated his re­cent pro-is­rael line. “The bond be­tween our two coun­tries is un­break­able,” he de­clared. “And as I’ve said to the prime min­is­ter in ev­ery sin­gle one of our meet­ings, the United States will al­ways have Is­rael’s back when it comes to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity.”

Mr. Obama’s com­ments must be viewed in the con­text of the cred­i­bil­ity gap be­tween his words and ac­tions re­gard­ing the Jewish state. His ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael — as well as his per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Ne­tanyahu — has been rocky at best. The White House can­not point to a sin­gle ma­jor agree­ment or ben­e­fi­cial game-chang­ing ac­tion taken with re­spect to Is­rael. Yet Mr. Obama re­peat­edly claims out­sized credit for his sup­posed ac­com­plish­ments.

Mr. Obama main­tains that his ad­min­is­tra­tion “has done more for the se­cu­rity of the state of Is­rael than any pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.” This boast doesn’t bear even rudi­men­tary scru­tiny. Pres­i­dents Truman, Nixon, Rea­gan and the Bushes took sig­nif­i­cant ac­tions to sup­port Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant Mid­dle East­ern ally in times of peace and war. Pres­i­dent Carter, lately no friend of Is­rael’s, bro­kered the 1978 Camp David ac­cords, the sin­gle most im­por­tant diplo­matic ef­fort of any U.S. pres­i­dent re­spect­ing Is­rael since its found­ing. The ques­tion is not which pres­i­dent has done more than Mr. Obama re­gard­ing Is­rael, but which has done less.

U.S. cred­i­bil­ity is crit­i­cal in the nu­clear face­off with Iran. A strong pres­i­dent may be able to dis­suade the mul­lahs from pur­su­ing nu­cle­ar­weapons ca­pa­bil­ity. A cred­i­ble leader could give the Is­raelis the nec­es­sary sense of se­cu­rity to per­suade them not to take pre-emp­tive uni­lat­eral mil­i­tary ac­tion. Nei­ther side sees Mr. Obama in this light. He says he “does not bluff,” but few think the ad­min­is­tra­tion that in­vented the con­cept of “lead­ing from be­hind” has the met­tle to face a mil­i­tary cri­sis with Iran. Tak­ing out Tehran’s nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture would re­quire more than a raid by spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces or zap­ping a ter­ror­ist by re­mote con­trol. “Obama’s words are tough but his ac­tions aren’t,” ob­served for­mer Is­raeli Prime Min­is­te­rial Chief of Staff Naf­tali Ben­nett. “He talked about Teddy Roo­sevelt hold­ing a big stick. Right now, we are see­ing big words but a very, very small stick.”

Speak­ing to the Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee (AI­PAC) con­fer­ence on Sun­day, Mr. Obama touted his Sept. 2011 pro-is­rael U.N. speech. “No pres­i­dent,” he said, “has made such a clear state­ment about our sup­port for Is­rael at the United Na­tions at such a dif­fi­cult time.” But no other pres­i­dent has had to keep re­it­er­at­ing such sup­port, be­cause in ev­ery other ad­min­is­tra­tion it was im­plicit and un­der­stood. As for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher said, if you have to keep in­sist­ing you are a lady, you aren’t.

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