Forget the Joke, Look at Policy

Mona Charen

4/27/2010 12:01:00 AM - Mona Charen

"Lighten up." That's what defenders of National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones are saying. Appearing before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jones introduced his remarks with the following story:

A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water. The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn't have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban ... begins to curse and yell. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, two miles down the road, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water. ... An hour later, the Taliban is back. He tells the merchant: "Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant."

Jones got a hearty laugh from the crowd, which included many Jews. But really, you would think by 2010 that public officials would know better than to traffic in ethnic, religious, or racial jokes. A senior Middle East policy maker from an administration already perceived as unfriendly toward Israel might particularly wish to avoid greedy Jew anecdotes. Or should we lighten up?

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The joke is the least of it. Though in obviously poor taste, it sheds little light on why the Obama administration has brought relations with Israel to the lowest point since the state's founding. No, the Obamaites are not motivated by anti-Semitism. Their sentiments are actually more dangerous. President Obama believes that he understands Israel's best interests better than Israel's American supporters, and better than Israelis themselves do.

Speaking at Cairo University in June 2009, the president explained that looking at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict "from only one side or the other" would "blind one to the truth." That truth, he continued, was that the only possible solution was "two states where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security." Obama could see, even if the benighted parties could not, "that (a two-state solution) is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest." He said the same thing upon welcoming Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the Oval Office. Earlier this month, the president told The New York Times that while "we can't want (peace) more than (the parties do)," we are "setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts, but it's also in the interest of the United States."

To Israelis, who daily read of thwarted terrorist attacks, who gave up land for peace in Gaza and were rewarded with thousands of missiles fired at Israeli civilians, who can watch Palestinian TV teach Palestinian children that "their" country stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, who see public squares on the West Bank named in honor of mass murderers of Israeli civilians, who see Syria attempting to build a nuclear reactor, Iran closing in on a bomb, and a festering civil war between Hamas and Fatah, the road to a two-state solution may not appear so obvious. Perhaps they lack Obama's clairvoyance.

In addition to the conceit that Obama understands Israel's interests better than Israelis do, the administration has also repeatedly stressed in recent weeks that a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian dispute is vital to American interests, and to saving American "blood and treasure." Settling the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, the Obamaites believe, is more important for America's long-term interests than preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. In fact, multiple emissaries have warned Israel against taking military action against Iran.

The administration's strong-arming of Israel didn't stop with the infamous 40-minute scolding Secretary of State Clinton delivered to Prime Minister Netanyahu when Israel had the temerity to build homes in its own capital. Mrs. Clinton intensified the pressure last week, complaining that Israel's recent steps to ease movement on the West Bank were "not sufficient to prove to the Palestinians that this embrace is sincere." The Palestinians scarcely need a representative since the administration is negotiating for them.

This is of a piece with the Obama administration's invertebrate approach to the rest of the Middle East. President Obama bows low to the Saudi King, has sent multiple emissaries to Syria's Bashar Assad, and has proclaimed a new dawn with Iran. In that same spirit, the State Department issued a plaintive request last week for the release of three American hikers Iran has been holding in prison for nine months. Failing that, our diplomats pleaded that the hikers' families be permitted to visit them.

The Obama administration is at least consistent. The foreign policy of self-abasement, weakness, and dithering that it thinks best for the United States is the one it is attempting to impose upon Israel.