Friday, March 26, 2010

What Bibi Taught Us

Updated Saturday, March 27

Caption: Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office, May 18, 2009

Image credit: The White House/Wikimedia

President Obama did one thing right this week. No, it wasn't signing the health care "reform" bill, or the "correction", or the "correction to the correction". No, it was reminding Israel's bombastic leader who the senior partner in our alliance is, as the Israeli publication Ha'aretz reports:

Details emerging from Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington remain incomplete, but the conclusion may nonetheless be drawn that the prime minister erred in choosing to fly to the United States this week. The visit - touted as a fence-mending effort, a bid to strengthen the tenuous ties between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama - only highlighted the deep rift between the American and Israeli administrations.

The prime minister leaves America disgraced, isolated, and altogether weaker than when he came.

Instead of setting the diplomatic agenda, Netanyahu surrendered control over it. Instead of leaving the Palestinian issue aside and focusing on Iran, as he would like, Netanyahu now finds himself fighting for the legitimacy of Israeli control over East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu leaves U.S. disgraced, isolated and weaker

Leaving Bibi to find his own way to dinner wasn't a bad touch, either. As Patrick Lang put it:

Bibi was "dissed." Good, he needed the lesson. I think there will be more such lessons. Obama is a patient man. I now see that he favors the "ambush" style. Israeli hubris and arrogance favors an "adversary" who employs such method.

They will not learn the lesson implied in this Ha'aretz editorial because to do so would require a basic change in the way they think [of] themselves in relationship to the outer world and gentiles. They carry this burden in trying to deal with difficult situations. In the same way they will continue down the road of trying to deal with the Palestinians by treating them as sub-humans. That road leads to a dead end.

"Netanyahu leaves U.S. disgraced, isolated and weaker." By Aluf Benn

Lang spent some time as an observer of the Israeli Defense Forces. He comes by his opinions of Israeli society at least partly by observation. Netanyahu's treatment of Vice President Biden two weeks ago should convince just about anyone that at least when it comes to Netanyahu and his immediate circles, their attitude toward the rest of the world sucks.

Something James Ala wrote last week seems prophetic in this context:

It is clear by recent events that Israel is totally contemptuous of the U.S. executive. The last U.S. President that Israel paid any heed to was the big dog, Hillary’s husband.

Big bad Bill got respect because he placed his foot up Bibi’s backside the last time the Likud leader got a bit too big for his britches. The WH at the time basically engineered the electoral defeat of Bibi back in the glory days of the 1990’s. Bill’s brass-knuckled brush back of the Israeli leader set the course for the near miss of Clinton’s Oslo efforts.

The ADL Attacks The Four Star

Bibi will eventually learn his lesson. Americans have a lesson to learn, too. As Pat Lang also noted indirectly, this should remove any doubt people might have had that Obama is either weak or incompetent at politics. This was a move you'd expect of a competent leader of a world power when dealing with a lesser power that has become a troublesome ally.

It should make clear that something I wrote some time ago is really true, Obama isn't going to do anything he either doesn't want to do or doesn't have to. Assuming that he's tentative or timid is a mistake, and it's one that quite a few people have made, particularly among progressives. In short, he isn't failing to do the right thing on health care or regulating finance because he's afraid to; he's refusing to do it because he doesn't want to, and no one has figured out how to make it worth his while.

Perhaps if I keep writing this, with sufficient examples, people will pick up on this. I'm not holding my breath, though. As Bibi is proving by surviving repeated humiliations at the hands of American presidents, stupid dies hard.

UPDATE: Over at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, James Ala has written a response to this article. I think the only real disagreement he had is this:

[Netanyahu] lost the top spot the last time because he pissed off the Big Dog and he found out exactly what kind of bite the Arkansas mongrel packed. Clinton basically ran him out of office. Thus, in one respect, you are not correct Cujo359, Bibi has zero learning curve. His learning curve is flatter than a Kansas landscape. Thus one more time a U.S. President has kicked him to the curb because Bibi didn't know when to stop.

What Bibi Taught Us—A Response to My Favorite Canine

In one sense, it doesn't matter if Netanyahu learns the lesson or not. If he doesn't, he will probably be voted out. He almost certainly will if this contretemps leads to reduced support by America. That loss of support is a possible, if unlikely, outcome.

There's also something to be said for the idea that sometimes people require repeated lessons. If nothing else, Bibi is stubborn. Like James, though, I also think the man is stupid. I just haven't watched him enough to be sure how stupid. Time will tell.

The other point James made that I found interesting is that he thinks this all had its genesis in Obama's lack of response to Netanyahu's implicit declaration last year that the concept of "natural growth" of Israeli settlements in occupied territory would continue. I suspect he's right. It was a mistake for Obama to not respond to that point at the time. No doubt that mistake led Netanyahu to assume that Obama would simply allow continued expansion as his predecessor had.

Incidentally, while doing research to recall just what happened back then, I found this article by The American Prospect on the settlements. In it, the author called real estate agents in Israel to see if there were homes for sale in the settlements. Guess what? There were. So much for "natural growth".

How this all plays out will depend on many things that I can't predict. It should be clear now, though, that the Obama Administration doesn't support the expansion of settlements under any circumstances. Anyone who doesn't get that now would make Bibi look like a genius. The question is what the White House intends to do beyond words and snubs.


Lex said...

I agree with you, Cujo. For one it's hard to be elected president by being incompetent...especially if you're an unknown with a Muslim name and heavy skin pigmentation.

Assuming that Obama is incompetent is easier, if only because it allows people who'd like to support him an escape clause.

The START agreement is smart politics too. He'll get it ratified because it doesn't really ask anything of either party, but it will be a political victory.

This snubbing of Bibi, however, is the first thing that i can say i'm happy about coming from the WH. The question will be how he handles Congress trying to undermine his tougher stand...

lawguy said...

We will see. I do not expect that we will stop giving them all the money they want to buy all our military equipment they want. I do not expect that we will get anything, except that they will not diss us in public again (for awhile). But we will see.

Cujo359 said...

I think you've about got the motivation right Lex, although the way I think of it is that these are the people who believed the things they wanted to about Obama all along, and now that they're disappointed his incompetence or reluctance is a good excuse that doesn't make them feel like fools.

I'm pessimistic too, lawguy. Still, things like Bibi's treatment of Biden have a way of changing peoples' minds where reason will not. Obama has helped that process along, too.