It’s getting harder and harder for even diehard apologists to make a case that the Obama administration supports Israel. The latest news comes after a very rocky period in which the administration tried to do an end-around to coerce Israel into a bad ceasefire deal with Hamas, while experimenting with an unseemly and embarrassing (and short-lived) flight ban to Israel’s international airport, and straightforwardly mouthing the false Hamas narrative about an Israeli attack in southern Gaza.
Now administration officials have disclosed, in a leak-blast full of astonishing quotes, that a shipment of arms to resupply Israel after the recent operation in Gaza was stopped when senior officials became aware of it.
But they aren’t just disclosing that the shipment was halted, and that other shipments will be getting a closer look. They are concocting an entire narrative about the Israelis “outflanking” the administration, running off on their own, and being unreceptive to U.S. influence.
Obama is transparent, if you read his oracular signs with the right key. Most responsible observers have been reluctant up to now to use that key. But there’s really nothing else left to do. We’re beyond the point at which the damaging implications of tailored “leaks” from the Obama administration can be explained away.
The most positive interpretation of the administration’s posture, as revealed in the incendiary WSJ article, is that it is ideologically committed to a radical-left view in which Israel figures as the villain. From this ideological motive, Obama hopes to use American influence to limit and confound Israeli policy. Think of the policy the typical flotilla activist would adopt toward Israel, and that’s the thematic pattern in Obama’s executive-branch campaign. The campaign can’t be waged too overtly, because of the inevitable blowback from Congress.
Tending the “base”
Characteristically, the latest escapade with the halted arms shipment is being disclosed in a way that will gratify Obama’s radical-left political base. Right away, the disclosure has the Obama signature on it (emphasis added):
White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.
Is Obama ever not caught off guard? This opening sentence explains to his base that he and his top officials weren’t responsible for seeming to approve of the IDF’s operation in Gaza by providing supplies to it.
But the sentence also flat-out lies – by implying that there was something sneaky about Israel’s procurement of ammunition. In fact, Israel was reordering ammunition under Foreign Military Sales cases for which reordering is already authorized, without the need for renewed approval. This is not uncommon with foreign military sales (and is actually acknowledged later in the same article, as Jeff Dunetz points out). Depicting a reorder of ammo as “adroit bureaucratic maneuvering” is worse than tendentious, and can have only one purpose. The purpose is clarified here:
But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and that both sides know it.
Certainly this can be read as the Obama administration distancing itself from Israel in a diplomatic and geopolitical sense. But don’t discount the reality of who Obama is as a politician. He’s equally invested in distancing himself, in the minds of his most loyal supporters, from whatever outcome Israel is able to secure from the current conflict. The narrative crafted by this very tailored “leak” is perfectly designed to appeal to those supporters, who at this point are virtually certain to be disappointed in Israel’s outcome.
This attempt at massaging the narrative for preemptive damage control may be slightly subtler than Obama’s recent, absurd disavowal of his once-celebrated troop withdrawal from Iraq. But it’s being done on the same principle. It’s part of a pair of patterns observable with the Obama administration from its earliest days.
Team Obama’s methods
One of those patterns is “leaking” intricate, fully formed narratives to an obedient press. Where the George W. Bush administration could barely make its most open and categorical statements heard over the cacophony of skeptical caveats advanced by the mainstream media, many in the same MSM act today as mere repeaters for whatever tortuous tale the Obama administration wants to broadcast anonymously.
This often results in internally contradictory narratives like the one in the arms-shipment story, which confirms that there wasn’t anything sneaky in Israel’s application to the Pentagon for a resupply of arms, but leads off with the unmistakable suggestion that there was.
John Podhoretz concludes at Commentary that the Obama administration is essentially just having a hissy fit.
These transfers were taking place through entirely traditional, legal, and uncontroversial means. Israel is an ally. It’s at war. War depletes stocks. So why is this happening?
Simply put: It’s a gigantic hissy fit, an expression of rage against Bibi Netanyahu, by whom the administration feels dissed. The quotes in this article are almost beyond belief. In the annals of American foreign policy, no ally has ever been talked about in this way.
And I think there’s a good deal to that. But it’s not the only thing going on. The Obama administration’s highest priority is always the community organizer’s: tending its constituency base. As discussed above, that’s part of the purpose.
The administration has also shown a preternatural aptitude for exploiting the political opportunities afforded by a gigantic, often unaccountable federal bureaucracy: from holding tax-exempt status over the heads of rival political groups to implementing regulations on the sly and distributing favors to Obama’s constituencies. Leveraging anonymous bureaucratic activities is a great way to get around political opposition – and sometimes to paint a political picture with obscure data points the public won’t really understand – and Team Obama makes an art of it.
This method has been used against Israel a number of times. An early instance was one I wrote about four years ago, when Israel was expressing concerns about design features in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The collegial practice with allies – any allies – is to at least give such concerns a hearing, and try to find common ground. The Obama administration instead simply stonewalled Israeli concerns, because it could. As a problem at the bureaucratic and technical level, one the general public never heard about, the administration had the leeway to ignore it. Call it passive-aggressive maneuvering.
Team Obama is also good at creating lists of policy accomplishments out of regularly scheduled programming. The public doesn’t pay much attention to joint military exercises or military sales in general, nor does it know the first thing about military-to-military exchanges (e.g., in intelligence, or consultation on tactics and common warfighting issues). These activities make excellent fodder for superficial “resume enhancement,” and that’s exactly how the Obama administration has used them to bolster its image vis-à-vis Israel.
(It also tried to “leak” false information in 2011 that it was the first U.S. administration to supply Israel with 5,000-pound bunker-buster bombs.)
There’s no telling how many little bureaucratic whacks Team Obama has taken at Israel in the last six weeks. The beauty of these measures is that they can be taken without fanfare by executive fiat, and can even be attributed conveniently to autonomous bureaucratic processes, as the FAA flight ban against Israel was.
Just today, we’re hearing that the U.S. Post Office didn’t get the memo after the flight ban was lifted, and has been advising customers at some locations – since 23 July – that it can’t deliver their items to Israel. Adam Kredo points out that there was never an official directive to suspend postal deliveries to Israel, even during the flight ban. But that’s what a passive-aggressive approach is all about: finding flimsy excuses for inaction rather than doing the honest work to justify action.
Obama’s interdiction of the resupply shipment to Israel is a classic of its kind: executive, passive-aggressive, and framed for political effect. Soon enough, Democrats in Congress will probably get Obama to quietly back off on this little “hissy fit.” But the goal of reassuring Obama’s radical base will have been served (how effectively is a separate question; I refer here to the attempt). And if poisoning U.S. relations with Israel is a goal – and it’s hard to argue at this point that it isn’t – a blow will have been struck in that regard as well.