Into the Fray: If you are Jewish…
The prospect of a White House incumbent with an inherent affinity for Israel’s adversaries and unshackled by considerations of reelection is one that must be considered with the utmost seriousness.
“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” – Barack Obama to AIPAC, June 4, 2008
“Well the issue of it being undivided… I said immediately after the speech that that word [“undivided”] was poorly chosen” – Barack Obama on ABC, July 23, 2008
“There should not be a shred of doubt by now… I have Israel’s back” – Barack Obama to AIPAC, March 4, 2012
“It [having Israel’s back] was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action…. What it means is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel… just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan” – Barack Obama, at the White House, March 4, 2012
By most accounts – mine included – Barack Obama gave a sterling performance on Monday in the third debate with Mitt Romney. Attempts by Republican pundits, like the usually perceptive Charles Krauthammer, to declare a Romney victory, were largely unconvincing.
Only the most biased observer could deny that Obama’s performance was significantly superior to that of his rival.
Not about oratory skills…
But the upcoming US elections are not – or at least, should not be – about which of the two candidates has the superior rhetorical skills.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, the November elections are pivotal for the US and its allies. Their results have ramifications that could irreversibly determine the fate of America for decades. These elections may well prove to be a point of singularity for the Union, marking a historical discontinuity that distinguishes whatever preceded it as being qualitatively different from whatever succeeds it.
It is not merely a choice between rival candidates, or between competing political parties, vying for 48 months of power and prestige.
This time, the choice is far more profound and far-reaching. It is in essence a choice between two incompatible and divergent ideological envelopes, which demarcate essential core concepts that, in the most elemental manner, reflect opposing points of departure as to the conduct of life in America and relations with its allies.
It is a difference that impinges on how the national interest is defined and pursued – at home and abroad – and how national policy – both domestic and foreign – is formulated, not in terms of the operational details but as to the underlying philosophy and value sets.
It is this conceptual cleavage and a comprehension of its consequences, not the personal likability of the candidates or past party allegiances, that should determine voter-choice at the polls.
Freedom vs fairness…
In last week’s column, I focused on domestic socioeconomic policy. I argued that – quite apart from the question of Israel – the overwhelming, and seemingly automatic, support that the US Jewish community gives the Democratic candidate is today inconsistent with its values and incompatible with its welfare.
This week, I turn my attention to what is at stake in the November elections in terms of foreign policy, with special emphasis on US-Israel relations.
But before broaching this topic, it is necessary to grasp how the elemental cleavage between opposing perspectives on domestic politics feeds into a parallel divide between similarly opposing world-views on international politics and the nature of relationships between nations.
So please bear with me through this somewhat detailed digression. The core differential between the two approaches is that while one prioritizes energetic wealth-creation, the other prioritizes equitable wealth-allocation.
The inevitable consequence of this is divergent perspectives regarding the ranking of societal values.
In the former approach, the dominant value would be “freedom” – even if that means creating some inequities; in the latter, the dominant value would be “fairness” – even if that means curtailing some liberties.
Given the flaws and the frailties of human nature, these divergent priorities inevitably result in differences in emphases, attitudes, outlooks and beliefs: On the one hand, we have an approach that emphasizes the promotion of enterprise, on the other, one that emphasizes the provision of entitlements; an attitude that fosters respect for success and achievement, as opposed to one that foments resentment toward them; an outlook that incentivizes industry versus one that induces indolence; a belief that encourages self-reliance and individual responsibility counter-posed against one that engenders dependency and societal scapegoating.
Men standing in buckets…
Unsurprisingly, these divergent philosophies tend to generate divergent policy preferences – the one oriented toward the (re)generation of wealth; the other toward the (re)allocation thereof.
Of course, the principal means by which to effect reallocation of wealth is taxation, but it is hardly one likely to achieve its regeneration.
As Winston Churchill remarked wryly: “…for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”
Of course, some level of taxation is imperative to generate wealth-creating/ facilitating infrastructures, maintain national defense preserve law and order, sustain a certain level of social welfare services and so on. But when raised above a certain level, taxation begins to drive off wealth-producing talents/resources to more fiscally benign locations, making tax increases on dwindling fiscal sources increasingly self-defeating.
Whether this level has been reached in the US is a matter of contention, but with 70 percent of federal taxes being paid by 10% of the income-earners, a compelling case could be made that it has. And while a seemingly plausible claim could be made that it would be “fair” to increase taxes on the wealthy, this would be far more likely to be “socially cosmetic” than substantially remedial in terms of deficit reduction.
After all, higher tax rates do not necessarily bring higher tax revenues. They may well achieve the opposite.
Success as a sin…
How does all this relate to the question of foreign policy and Obama’s attitude to Israel? The same mindset that sanctifies egalitarianism in domestic affairs has its counterpart in international affairs. The same strains of resentment and envy, suspicion of others’ achievement, the belief that the success of some was necessarily the product of exploitation pervades much of the anti-colonial, anti-American – and yes, anti-Zionist – philosophy of many members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
One does not have to accept unquestioningly all the claims of Indian-born Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which formed the basis of the hugely popular documentary 2016: Obama’s America to concede that it is more than plausible that these sentiments played a significant role in molding Obama’s political credo.
Indeed, it is difficult to see how anyone other than the willfully blind or the woefully biased could deny that in the formative environment in which that credo coalesced, many of the influences, and many of the personalities/organizations to which he owes allegiance, at least partially, were sharply divergent from – some might say, antithetical to – the ethos that made America, America.
Only the overly naive or the excessively partisan could believe that these inputs would not color Obama’s political instincts and policy preferences; and consequently that the current administration does not perceive US national interests – and how they should be pursued – as being fundamentally different from the way they have been perceived by almost all its predecessors.
Disturbing ‘political body language’…
Whatever one might believe regarding Obama’s true origins and faith, he is undeniably the most Islamophilic president ever to occupy the White House, who somehow sees that a “[Constitution-compliant] America and a [Shari’a-compliant] Islam…overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings” (Cairo, 2009).
His strong pro-Islamic predilections have manifested themselves in a myriad of gestures – both symbolic and verbal – which collectively might be dubbed telltale “political body language.”
To name but a few, these include:
• Obama’s highly “imaginative” and exaggerated portrayal of Islam’s role in US history: “I know…that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.”
• His insistence on allotting the Muslim Brotherhood seats of honor at his flagship outreach speech at Cairo University, to the chagrin of his hosts.
• His deep – some would say obsequious – bow to the Saudi king, guardian of Mecca.
• The “sanitizing” of FBI and Department of Homeland Security counter-terror manuals of any references to Islam-related terms in defining the nature of the threat facing the US and its citizens from the forces of radical Islam.
• The seemingly cozy relationship with, and the frequent access to, the White House that associates of the Muslim Brotherhood have been afforded by the administration.
This is but a partial list of a long series of words and deeds that reflect an unprecedented affinity for Islam by a US president.
It is easy to dismiss the political significance of each of these individual items. It would, however, be most imprudent – indeed unreasonable – to dismiss them all as totally un-indicative of the president’s true political predilections.
Backtracking and broken pledges…
Against this backdrop of Islamophilic sentiment, the naked antipathy displayed by Obama and several of his senior administration officials toward Israel and its prime minister are all the more troubling. The numerous incidents of insults, humiliations and public reprimands have been well-documented by others and I will spare the reader their repetition here.
True, the Obama administration has acted assertively and forcefully to preserve and promote Israeli interests on a number of critical issues. These have included enhancing military aid for Israel’s anti-missile program; exercising US veto power to block a one-sided Security Council resolution condemning Israel on settlements; and strongly supporting Israel at the UN to block the Palestinian unilateral bid for statehood recognition. These steps are in no way trivial.
However, the more circumspect observer might suggest that this welcome conduct should not be ascribed to any underlying pro-Israel sentiment but to growing concern over the consequences of a Jewish voter backlash – particularly after the shock Democrat defeat, for the first time in almost a century – in last year’s elections in New York’s 9th Congressional District.
For a second-term incumbent, this would no longer be a consideration of any weight.
Likewise, recent professions of “unprecedented cooperation” by senior Israeli officials should be viewed cautiously through the lens of diplomatic protocol, political constraints and institutional inertia. Indeed, even if true, there is no guarantee of their permanence.
For US Jews who care about Israel, what should be a matter of deep concern is the unbearable ease and breathtaking speed with which the president has broken pledges and backtracked on promises on issues of crucial importance for Israel – as the introductory excerpts illustrate.
Islam’s impressive gains…
During Obama’s term in office, Islam has made massive gains.
The radical Shi’ite regime in Tehran is four crucial years closer to a nuclear capability, yet he steadfastly refuses to set out “red lines” to halt its progress, clinging to the forlorn hope that somehow sanctions will induce the savage theocracy to comply because of the suffering sanctions inflict on the general population.
Elsewhere, radical Sunnis are in ascendency across the region, seizing power in some countries and vying strongly for it in others. Soon Israel may find itself surrounded by Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regimes. Obama does not seem to consider this a major geo-political threat to US interests.
Sinai has become a virtually unencumbered launching pad for jihadi gangs.
Clearly a position of almost unprecedented peril is emerging for Israel. True, Obama promised to back Israel if it was attacked. But that pledge – even if honored – would be cold comfort if that attack were nuclear.
A president unmoored…
There is a distinct possibility that Israel could face a second-term president who is fundamentally unmoored to America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, a heritage, which, despite occasional periods of tensions, was for decades the elemental underpinning of the relationship between the two countries.
The prospect of a White House incumbent with an inherent affinity for Israel’s adversaries and unshackled by considerations of reelection is one that must be considered with the utmost seriousness. It is one US Jews should weigh carefully before they cast their ballot.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.