Obama, Israel and American Jews

Commentary asked “31 prominent American Jews” to respond to these questions: “Can Obama’s Jewish supporters act in a way that will change the unmistakable direction of current American policy emanating from the White House? Will American Jews accept Barack Obama’s view that the state of Israel bears some responsibility for the loss of American ‘blood and treasure’ in the Middle East? Will they continue to extend their support to the Obama administration and to Barack Obama’s political party?” My answer, from “Obama, Israel & American Jews: The Challenge—A Symposium,” in the June issue of Commentary:

While “I-told-you-so” vindication feels good (I was senior Middle East adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign), it is no substitute for the urgent re-education of Barack Obama.

No American president has ever entered the Oval Office with so many bad ideas about the Middle East, half-baked in the ovens of the Middle East departments at Columbia and the University of Chicago. Two of these ideas are particularly pernicious and might be described as the Khalidi Doctrine, after Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian-American professor who gave Obama his Middle East primer at Chicago. First, the American resort to force in the Middle East is always counterproductive; second, the unresolved Palestine problem is the hinge on which the entire Middle East turns.

Guided by these two ideas, Obama’s ship ran aground almost as soon as it left port. The diplomatic drive to tame Iran was bound to stall without the backup of a credible military threat—the willingness to use force, despite its downsides. The implosion of Plan A, “engagement,” has left a strategic vacuum, which only now the administration is beginning to fill with stiffer rhetoric. And putting the Palestine problem front and center has only incited the intransigence of the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. By declaring a peace deal a “vital American interest” and tussling with the Netanyahu government, Obama merely jacked up the Palestinian asking price for renewing negotiations and everything else.

As the two pillars of the Khalidi Doctrine crumble under the weight of reality, champions of an alternative approach are finally getting some traction. They insist that U.S. diplomacy toward Iran is doomed, absent the threat to use force if talks fail. And they argue that tinkering with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” is a dangerous distraction from the main event: Iran.

How do we know whether these ideas are making inroads? First, there was the “dual loyalty” smearing of Dennis Ross by an anonymous administration official, which looked like a desperate lunge to head off just this kind of rethinking. Second, the president of the weather vane called the Council on Foreign Relations suddenly reversed direction: chasing an Israeli-Palestinian deal, he announced, is “a distraction that would benefit neither the U.S. nor Israel, given an Iranian threat that is close at hand and a promise of peace that is distant.” To judge from these gyrations, the re-education of Barack Obama has begun.

What can American Jews do to accelerate it? They must keep their and Obama’s eyes squarely on the ball. When Obama visited the town of Sderot during his campaign, he declared that “a nuclear Iran would be a game-changing situation not just in the Middle East but around the world. Whatever remains of our nuclear non-proliferation framework, I think, would begin to disintegrate.” That is the Obama for whom most Jewish Democrats cast their votes: a president who would secure the greater peace. Call it the Sderot Pledge: American Jews must unite around it and hold Obama to it.

Martin Kramer is senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and Wexler-Fromer fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Visit Commentary (subscribers only) here for the other responses by Elliott Abrams, Morris J. Amitay, Peter Berkowitz, Kenneth J. Bialkin, Matthew Brooks, Mona Charen, Alan M. Dershowitz, Nathan J. Diamentis, Ira Forman, Abraham H. Foxman, Jonathan Gurwitz, Jeff Jacoby, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Jonathan Kellerman, Ed Koch, William Kristol, Michael Medved, Aaron David Miller, Tova Mirvis, Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Dennis Prager, Gary Rosenblatt, Jonathan D. Sarna, Robert Satloff, Dan Senor, Tevi Troy, Ruth R. Wisse, David Wolpe, and Eric H. Yoffie.