It works out that US President Barack Obama is a man of heartfelt, long-held principles. It also works out that his principles are divorced from reality and unresponsive to any facts that contradict them.
This much was made clear by a New York Times report on Sunday which discussed a recently "rediscovered" 1983 article Obama published in a student magazine on the subject of nuclear disarmament when he was an undergraduate at Columbia University.
Obama’s article, "Breaking the war mentality," was ostensibly a feature story showcasing two student organizations that advocated a freeze in the US’s nuclear arsenal. But the young Obama didn’t hesitate to use his platform to make his own, even more radical views known to his readers. As he put it: "The narrow focus of the Freeze movement, as well as academic discussion of first- versus second-strike capabilities, suit the military-industrial interests, as they continue adding to their billion-dollar erector sets."
Citing a Rastafarian reggae musician as his foreign policy authority, Obama ruminated, "When Peter Tosh sings that ‘everybody’s asking for peace, but nobody’s asking for justice,’ one is forced to wonder whether disarmament or arms control issues, severed from economic and political issues, might be another instance of focusing on the symptoms of a problem, instead of the disease itself."
As one of the freeze advocates explained gently, contending with "the disease itself" was an unachievable goal since "you’re not going to get rid of the military in the near future."
THERE IS NOTHING shocking about Obama’s embrace of radical politics as a college student. Particularly at Columbia, adopting such positions was the most conformist move a student could make. What is disturbing is that these views have endured over time, although they were overtaken by events 20 years ago.
Just six years after Obama penned his little manifesto, the Iron Curtain came crashing down. The Soviet empire fell not because radicals like Obama called for the US to destroy its nuclear arsenal, it fell because president Ronald Reagan ignored them and vastly expanded the US’s nuclear arsenal while deploying short-range nuclear warheads in Europe and launching the US’s missile defense program while renouncing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
On Monday Obama arrived in Moscow for a round of disarmament talks with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. According to most accounts, while in Moscow Obama plans to abandon US allies Ukraine and Georgia and agree to deep cuts in US missile defense programs. In exchange, Moscow is expected to consider joining Washington in cutting back on its nuclear arsenal just as the likes of Iran and North Korea build up theirs.
Of course, even if Russia doesn’t agree to scale back its nuclear arsenal, Obama has already ensured that the US will slash the size of its own by refusing to fund its modernization. In short, Obama is working to implement the precise policy he laid out as an unoriginal student conformist 26 years ago.
BY NOW of course, none of this is particularly surprising. Since entering office seven long months ago, Obama has demonstrated that his guiding philosophy for foreign affairs is that the US and its allies are to blame for their adversaries’ hostility toward them. All that needs to happen for peace to break out throughout the world is for the US and its allies to quit clinging to their guns and religions and start apologizing for their rudeness. In furtherance of this goal, Obama has devoted himself to putting the screws on US allies, slashing America’s defense budget and embarking on a worldwide tour apologizing to US adversaries.
The basic reality that the US is being led by a radical ideologue who clings to his views in the face of overwhelming proof of their falsity is the most fundamental fact that world leaders must reckon with today as they formulate policies to contend with the Obama administration. This is first and foremost the case for Israel.
Since the Netanyahu government took office three months ago, the Obama administration has placed inordinate pressure on Jerusalem in a bid to coerce it into making massive concessions to the Palestinians. These concessions are demanded not for peace, but simply for the sake of placing pressure on Israel. Obama wishes to pressure Israel to show his good intentions to the Arabs and Iran.
TO DATE, Obama’s loudest demand has been to officially prohibit all Jewish construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Although the demand is intrinsically bigoted, illegal and immoral, and although the consequences of the expulsion of all Jews from Gaza in 2005 show that Israeli land giveaways and ethnic cleansing bring war not peace, the Netanyahu government has opted not to get into an open confrontation with the administration on the issue.
Instead, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government have sought to treat Obama’s offensive as a routine disagreement between otherwise close allies. Rather than defending the principles of Jewish national, legal and human rights and the country’s right to security, Netanyahu has sought to reach an accommodation with Obama by reducing the discussion to a conversation about the inevitable natural growth of Jewish communities due to expanding families.
But what Obama’s slavish devotion to his radical world view shows is that Netanyahu’s decision to seek an accommodation is not simply an exercise in futility, it is a recipe for disaster. Obama and his advisers do not care that Jewish fertility rates are the fastest rising in the world. They do not care that by arguing for a complete halt in "natural" growth, they are effectively adopting a eugenics argument the likes of which no US policy-maker has dared to advance since before the Holocaust. They are looking to fight because they believe that the US is best served by fighting with its allies – particularly with Israel. Any concession Netanyahu makes will just form the basis for the next round of demands.
Far from seeking an agreement with Obama, Netanyahu should realize that given the president’s ideological rigidity, there is no agreement to be had. Instead of trying to resolve the issue, Netanyahu’s goal should be to prolong discussions until Obama finds someone else to pick on.
Rather than making wrongheaded concessions to Obama on Jewish population growth in the vain hope of mollifying him, Israel should go on the offensive on issues where it has something to gain from a confrontation. Two specific issues – aside from Iran’s nuclear program – should be raised in this regard.
FIRST, IN recent months the Obama administration has applied massive pressure on Israel to remove its military forces from Judea and Samaria, curtail its counterterror operations and allow US-trained, anti-Israel Palestinian military forces to deploy in the towns and cities. Rather than openly oppose these demands, in the interests of cultivating good relations, the Netanyahu government has gone along with the program. This it has done in spite of the fact that the Palestinian forces now deploying throughout the areas have a history of participating in and supporting terror attacks against Israel as well as terrorizing their own people.
Last week the government quietly announced that the IDF is pulling out of most Palestinian population centers and turning the keys over to these hostile US-trained forces. This was a mistake.
In the weeks to come, the government should bluntly and publicly discuss and protest Fatah political and military leaders’ continued support for terrorists and terrorist attacks against Israel. Netanyahu and his government should also detail human-rights abuses Fatah personnel routinely carry out against Palestinian journalists, businessmen and other civilians. The administration should be forced to defend its decision to empower these corrupt, terror-supporting brutes at the expense of Israel’s security, and to force US taxpayers to foot the bill for its cockamamie priorities.
THE SECOND ISSUE is US military aid. For years Israel’s detractors have pointed to this aid as "proof" that Israel is a strategic burden for America. But in recent years, and particularly since the Obama administration took office, it is becoming increasingly clear that US military assistance may be a greater burden for Israel than for the US.
On Sunday The Jerusalem Post reported that the Pentagon has forced Israel Aerospace Industries to back out of a joint partnership with a Swedish aerospace company to compete in a multi-billion dollar tender to sell new multi-role fighters to the Indian air force. And as the Post reported, this is the second major deal the Pentagon has forced Israel to withdraw from in the past year. Last summer it was forced to bow out of a $500 million tender to supply the Turkish army with a new main battle tank. In both cases, US firms were competing in the tenders and the Pentagon threatened that Israeli participation would risk continued US-Israeli cooperation.
Today the Israel Air Force faces the prospect of not having a new-generation fighter. The Pentagon has placed so many draconian restrictions on its purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and raised the price so high, that it makes little strategic or economic sense to purchase it. So too, last week the Israel Navy announced it has decided to explore the option of building its own warships rather than buy one of two competing US naval platforms as planned because the US contractors’ costs have gone up so high. The Navy is also taking into consideration the fact that by building domestic platforms, it will provide needed employment to shipyard workers.
All in all, both in terms of pure economics and in terms of the massive and constantly escalating restrictions the Obama administration is now placing on Israeli use of US technologies and munitions, maintaining US military assistance makes less and less sense with each passing day.
Were Israel to initiate a conversation about cutting back on this assistance, it would be able to ensure that the talks take place on its terms. Moreover, given the fact that Israel may indeed be best served by simply ending its military assistance package, the risk involved in such discussions would not be particularly earth shattering. Finally, by making clear that it is not dependent on Obama’s kindness, it would be expanding its maneuvering room on other issues as well.
What Obama’s radicalism tells us is that he is not a man who is moved by rational discourse. He is not a man who is willing to be convinced that he is mistaken. But even in these dire circumstances, Israel is not without good options for securing its interests vis-à-vis Washington.
To do so, Jerusalem must first understand that it gains nothing from making concessions to a president bent on picking a fight with it. Then it must recognize that there are issues where a confrontation with Obama can serve its interests. Finally it must pursue those issues with energy and passion.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.