Many are misreading the import of the Obama administration’s latest essay in narrative placement: the “chickensh*tting of Bibi.”
There is no doubt that the administration wanted to defame Benjamin Netanyahu: to undermine his reputation as a national leader, impugn him and his policies. The administration has been in high dudgeon over Netanyahu and Israel for some time now, flouncing around in impotent fury like Scarlett O’Hara looking for a vase to throw.
Team Obama is caught, after all, between the stark realities that keep Israel’s security policy constant, and the constancy of American public support for Israel. Making substantial moves against Israel is a non-starter for an American president; Congress may not agree on much, but on that, it would act with unity and swift purpose – and the urgent support of the people
No form of diplomatic pressure, meanwhile – no matter how publicly uncomfortable – is going to make Netanyahu give in on Israel’s security and her hope of a future. Nothing short of giving Israel over to destruction is acceptable to the Palestinian Arab leadership as the price of a “peace deal,” and Netanyahu will never agree to that just to make John Kerry or Barack Obama happy.
So the Obama administration snipes from the shadows (and puts on passive-aggressive spectacles like the ridiculous shunning of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon during his recent visit). John Podhoretz aptly characterized an earlier incident in the administration’s series of pokes and jabs as a “hissy fit.” What we’ve been seeing is a very prolonged hissy fit; I almost feel a certain solicitude for the psychological effort it must take to keep it going.
Earnest observers in the U.S. and Israel are taking it seriously. A policy rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it hard, probably impossible, to confront Iran effectively – that’s the grown-up sense they are trying to make of it all. And they’re not wrong about that. But they’re behind the train, standing on the tracks as it pulls away in the distance.
Reality has moved beyond the old touchstones: U.S. power, a “concert of nations” addressing common security threats, maneuvers to line up “global” principles that every nation will feel itself bound to live by. The status quo defined by those characteristics is collapsing. In important ways, it has already collapsed, as evidenced by the utter, unaddressed chaos in Syria and Iraq, and the unaddressed Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Hoist on its own petard
This has all come to a head at this particular time largely because the Obama administration thinks it’s a foreign policy to place a narrative in the media about Bibi being a chickensh*t. The posture represented by that form of sophomoric intrigue is deeply irresponsible, morally vicious, and anti-Westphalian, and it has come out in Obama’s policies over and over and over again. The entire world, outside of Western academia and the editorial boards of the left-wing media, already knows that Obama is not an honestly-intentioned Westphalian statesman.
That knowledge has material consequences. Chief among them is the collapse of the global order, and that collapse has follow-on consequences in turn. Looking just at factors relating to the Iran problem, two of the most important consequences are a loss of prestige for the UN, and a loss of cohesion and purpose in NATO.
The UN today is as toothless as the League of Nations. The tooth in the UN was all America, and now “America” has stepped out of her role. The UN has been unable to have any effect on problems like the civil wars in Libya and Syria, or the Russian invasion of Crimea. It recently had to simply abandon one of its oldest peacekeeping missions, in the Golan Heights – literally flee the 40-year-old mission under attack – because the U.S. made no effort to protect the mission and keep it going.
We’re not waiting for the UN to become toothless; it already has. This means that nothing the UN does will be binding. And that has implications for all kinds of things, from the deterring of Iran to the meaning of a UN resolution declaring a Palestinian state, and the force of UN-sponsored treaties on climate change, small arms, and land mines. Not respecting UN policies is shortly to become a land-office business.
Observers in status quo nations don’t see that clearly because we aren’t motivated to. But others are (e.g., Iran, Russia, ISIS), and still others soon will be. They see the same things about NATO too: the same absence of policy consensus and meaningful enforcement; the same ultimate toothlessness.
I can’t overstress the extent to which Obama himself signed the death warrant for diplomatic shibboleths like the “two-state solution” – ironically, Kerry’s consuming passion – by withdrawing American power from the global order. There are no levers to press now. Team Obama, by its own hand, has now got nothing to hold over Bibi.
It has nothing to hold over anyone else either, and it has signaled that clearly with its little “chickensh*t” snit-fit, faithfully relayed through Jeffrey Goldberg’s article. That’s not what the administration meant to do, but that’s the effect it has actually had.
The hour is late
Where we should be taking this seriously is less in conventional, backward-looking policy advocacy, and more in attention to our most fundamental interests – each nation’s, and each family’s and individual’s. That, I note, is what Bibi has actually been doing throughout his current tenure. As geopolitical earthquakes keep erupting, he’s been focusing on what Israel absolutely requires to defend herself, survive, and have a viable future.
Friends, I urge you most strongly to do the same. Everyone may not be ready to hear this yet. But the hour is late. Nothing is propping up the international order now. The Pax Americana-era mechanisms of multilateral diplomacy and consultation have become nothing more than a convenience for the bad guys – like radical Iran, which uses “nuclear talks” to string the West along and play for time. (Inside our nations, the same can be said of too many of our tools of “soft socialist” government: that they are used by an embedded political class to string along the people.)
Bibi isn’t the only foreign political leader who doesn’t plan to let misguided fealty to a broken order become a suicide pact that takes down his nation. He’s just the one the Obama administration tries to insult by hurling obscenities at him.
It’s important to say this in closing. Neither Israel nor the United States has a future as an inward-looking “fortress.” The nature of freedom, opportunity, prosperity – hope – is to affect others, and take strength from that as well as giving it. America will never stop needing like-minded allies, the free exchange of ideas, and peaceful trade. Neither will Israel.
Cleaning up our own house in America doesn’t mean turning our back on the world. It’s necessary first because we cannot live without integrity and character. But it’s necessary equally because America must either infect the world with hope, or be infected by the world with despair. And we cannot avoid the latter as long as our president is someone who tries to get his way by calling the most stalwart of allies and defenders of Western freedom a chickensh*t.