by Jonathan S. Tobin
While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:
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.
It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …
In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. 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 doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.
As Miller points out, the impending crisis about Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons makes the need for close cooperation between the U.S. and Israel vital. But Obama’s coldness toward the Jewish state not only creates dangerous daylight between the two nations but also undermines the notion that Israelis should defer to and rely on the United States in a crisis. If the president is unhappy about the prospect of Israel striking out on its own on Iran, he has no one to blame but himself.
While Obama’s supporters keep trying to pretend there is no problem, Miller is merely saying what everyone already knows when he observes: “Obama’s views are much closer to the Palestinians than to Israel.”
As for the future, Miller points out that past confrontations between U.S. and Israeli leaders has led to them both being defeated for re-election, as was the case with the elder George Bush and Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. But Netanyahu is not in much danger of losing the next Israeli election. That means if Obama survives Romney’s challenge, the odds are the next four years will be difficult. As Miller writes, “Buckle your seat belts. It may be a wild ride.” That’s a prediction pro-Israel voters should take seriously this fall.Jonathan S. Tobin
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