Obama’s Alleged Snub of Israel

Israel SnubThe photo message to the left has been making the rounds on Facebook and other sources. As of this writing, it had over 20k shares and over 130k likes.

It’s the latest right-wing outrage over a seemingly small Obama maneuver. According to Reuters:

(Reuters) – The White House has rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama in the United States this month, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, after a row erupted between the allies over Iran’s nuclear programme.

An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu’s aides had asked for a meeting when he visits the United Nations this month, and “the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that”.

Netanyahu has met with Obama on all the Israeli leader’s U.S. trips since 2009.

The White House has not confirmed the snub. But even assuming it’s an accurate recounting, I fail to see the rationale for reactions best summed up by the comment appearing on my Facebook news feed saying, “I think it is totally disgraceful!”

Granted, a meeting commits us to nothing, but neither does a refusal to meet mean a complete breakdown of a relationship. This is a standard negotiating tactic. By refusing the meet, the US is asserting its position of power and control in the situation. Basically indicating that Netanyahu needs to soften his stance and take a more conciliatory posture. That hardly seems an untenable position for the US political right-wing who are typically more than a little hawkish in their foreign policy, and often tout that America should assert its position as the global superpower.

The problem here is that Netanyahu clearly wants the US to draw “red lines” with the intent of forcing the US into military action with Iran. He’s been quite open about that, and about his ire that Obama won’t commit to irrevocable terms under which he will bomb Iran. He has also openly taken sides in our election, becoming almost the Israeli wing of the Republican party. This is something our allies rarely do, partly out of respect, but also out of the recognition that they ultimately have to deal with the next President, regardless of how the election comes out. If he wants the respectful attention of our President, and ultimately wants us to do him a significant favor, he’s got a funny way of going about it.

Forgetting this involves Obama for a minute, what is the right advocating for here? That the President is obliged to accept a visit from any foreign head of state on demand? I would think not. The President should meet when there is value to the US in doing so. In this case, Netanyahu wants something the US isn’t prepared to give (commitment to military action in Iran), nor is it clear the Israeli people are prepared for that. Their own defense minister cautions against Netanyahu’s plan. Further, Netanyahu’s reputation with pretty much every world leader is that of a petulant child, prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Moreover, his historical record is that he leaks details of confidential meetings where he doesn’t get his way to the press, spun to his own advantage. Where is the potential upside for the President, or for the country in taking this meeting? Presumably, you want a President who’s tough, and sometimes that means saying no. That clearly doesn’t mean the President is saying they will never meet. They’ve had numerous meetings in the past, and spoke on the phone just last week. We are the most powerful nation on the planet. You earn a meeting, you don’t demand one.

I also wonder if we would even be having this discussion if the Prime Minister of Spain was demanding to be seen? It seems to me that Israel gets treated differently than any other foreign nation. Are they in a precarious geographic situation? Sure. so is South Korea. But in the end, Israel is still a foreign country and how we treat them should be based on what’s in our national interest. We are not obligated to treat them like a teenage child who has moved out of the house, but still needs Daddy to protect them.

And yes, I do recognize Israel’s exulted position among the religious right as the Holy Land and the location of many of the End Times prophecies.  But that is not a basis for making national policy. If their church’s would like to form their own militias and deploy them to the West Bank that’s fine by me. But the US federal government should not be making foreign policy decisions based on bible stories.

In another vein, during the ’08 election, many of the same folks who are apoplectic over snubbing Netanyahu now, were abhorred that Obama said that under the right conditions he’d meet with Iran or other hostile governments. The claim was that even meeting with Ahmadinejad showed weakness and meant we’d give in to them. Why are the rules different now? Why would this meeting not show weakness and a willingness to concede?

And as long as I’m on a roll here, let’s talk about Obama’s “terrible” support for Israel. So far he has provided full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system. In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves. He has increased aid to Israel and given it access to the most advanced military equipment, including the latest fighter aircraft. Obama has given close coordination by intelligence agencies — including the deployment of cyberweapons — to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”

Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama secured European support for what even Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.

In light of all this, it may be fair to say that Obama has an issue with Netanyahu, as does almost anyone who’s ever met him. But it’s pretty hard to claim he doesn’t care about or support Israel.


Conservative: You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo-Montoya-SwordWhen it comes to civil liberties and personal freedoms, I’m a self-avowed flaming liberal. Marry whom you love, worship whom you will, or don’t. Smoke dope. Paint your house neon green. Dance naked in the street. As long as your actions don’t directly infringe someone else’s freedom, have at it.

But in the realm of economics, foreign policy, commercial regulation, etc. I consider myself fairly conservative.  That’s “conservative” with a lower case “c”. It’s “conservative” in the sense of the dictionary definition. Someone who favors existing proven pragmatic methods. Someone who likes to preserve. Someone not prone to extravagant new experimental ventures. Someone who is cautiously moderate, and fiscally responsible.

This is far away from what “Conservative” with a capital “C” has come to mean in America. When you capitalize the “C”, suddenly you become someone who advocates for hawkish foreign policy, unabashed capitalism, and socially Darwinian domestic policy. Someone who favors dogmatic inflexible situationally independent rules.

The bizarre reality of being a Conservative in America is that you aren’t really very conservative at all. On the other hand, being conservative now makes you politically Liberal (with a capital “L”). It’s all so confusing. Perhaps a couple of examples would help.

Let’s take healthcare. On a per capita basis, American healthcare costs double what is spent for care in every other industrialized western country. And no, the quality of care is not better here. Health care costs are a drain on businesses and wages because providing employee healthcare is so expensive and continues to grow at multiples of the inflation rate.

The Conservative answer is basically to stay the course. There is a conservative angle here in that conservatives are resistant to change. But this is being ignorant of the larger picture. Sure, you can be resistant to policy change, but that doesn’t stop the change in healthcare costs that is eating up the economy. This is like sitting on your roof, refusing to be evacuated while the flood waters rise around you. The myopic conservative position may be to stay the course, but the safe, pragmatic, less risky position is to get in the next boat that comes by.

Looking around the world, some form of government run universal healthcare is the norm. There are any number of varieties including true socialized healthcare ala Great Britain, Medicare for all ala Canada, or even regulated and compulsory private insurance ala Switzerland.  All deliver roughly equivalent results at a fraction of the cost of the U.S. system. Further, there are so many variations of this system all succeeding, it can’t be that tricky to implement. Given, the clear choice for true conservatives should always be to solve a problem using a cost effective, proven, and time tested technique, the answer to healthcare should be clear.

In a somewhat related vein, there is a vested conservative interest in having a healthy and well-educated citizenry, who are living in a country with a solid modern infrastructure. All of these are foundational elements to the capitalistic industrial success that ultimately drives the economic prowess that makes this country great. Collapsed bridges, flooded cities, unreliable communications or power networks, or unemployable and non-productive citizens are all largely preventable problems if the society as a whole is making persistent and solid investments in its long term future. A liberal might advocate for something similar because it was the humane thing to do or because everyone deserves a chance. But a conservative should advocate for these things because they are solid practical ways to enable a productive society and minimize the collective expense.

Think of it this way. A conservative would clearly buy insurance on his home and make every effort to keep it well maintained. In this way, it’s a safe reliable shelter that should meet the needs of his family for decades to come. What could be a more conservative position than that?

When it comes to the environment, how can you be conservative and yet oppose environmental conservatism? No, I don’t think preserving every last species of minnow or song bird is vital. Species have been going extinct since the dawn of time. That’s the circle of life. But preserving and protecting the larger ecosystem we live in and depend on is about as conservative an idea as I can imagine. From deep sea oil drilling and fracking to carbon emissions, acid rain, and nuclear waste, the capital “C” Conservative position is diametrically opposed to the lower cased conservative one. I don’t get it.

On foreign policy, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s conservative about the kick ass and take names approach to the world. There are absolutely national interests that lie outside our borders, but diplomacy and economic power are far more cost effective, with less risk to domestic lives and treasure, than military action. It’s important to carry a big stick, but that doesn’t mean you never bother to speak softly.

On economics, Conservatives have the equation completely backwards. A conservative approach would be to take on some debt when times were bad and investment was needed. But then to be responsible and pay that debt off when things were going well.  Instead, we see Conservatives opt for austerity in bad times, in essence compounding the downturn, and then claiming deficits don’t matter during prosperous times, thereby compounding the recovery. A conservative should favor a nice even economy, not one that slingshots about like a roller-coaster.

In a very real way, the current capital “C” Conservative movement has become radical. Meanwhile the Liberal movement has morphed into something downright lower case conservative. Minimally, this means that hanging your identity on a label rather than a solid ideology may lead you to a point where you are unintentionally advocating for outcomes you would very much oppose. Modern marketing means you have to be a very intelligent consumer; and not just when you are shopping for margarine, but when you are shopping for politicians.

My ideology makes me politically conservative. But the current state of politics means I align most closely with the Liberals. Clearly, in today’s world, words don’t mean what you think they mean. Vote wisely.


Smile! You’re Not On Candid Camera

old-coupleI’ve spent two long weeks taking my Dad to the doctor’s every day for radiation treatments. Today was the last day, and following the treatment we celebrated by going to see his cardiologist. This man knows how to party.

We had a rather long wait in the waiting room, and while we sat patiently, a made-for-TV scene unfolded around us. An older Italian couple sitting to our right were clearly the actors on the Candid Camera payroll, but Allen Funt never made an appearance.

He was clearly hard of hearing, and she was clearly used to compensating by speaking at a volume I’m pretty sure OSHA should have required ear protection for.  As they were recounting their respective ailments and medications in preparation for their appointment, a rather large African-American woman came in the room and sat across from them.  Her smile lit up the room, and probably a few of the adjacent offices. She was followed shortly by a woman pushing her 90+ year old somewhat frail looking mother in her customized rad-looking plaid wheelchair.  They set up camp across from us.

Following standard waiting room protocol, three of the four groups promptly buried their noses in magazines or cell phones.  Even Plaid-Grandma was intently studying an old issue of Family Circle.  The remaining room occupants did not get the memo.

I quickly learned that the loud couple’s granddaughter had a new boyfriend. There was a certain oddness to the description of him though.  They seemed to be making a big deal about the kid being a perfect gentleman, holding down a job, and being good in school. At that point I was assuming that maybe their granddaughter had a history of dating deadbeats and miscreants… but no.  He was… wait for it… “so nice for a black boy.”

Facepalm.

But it didn’t stop there. They went on to self-justify their open-mindedness by recounting other black people they had known throughout their lives who had apparently made extraordinary impressions on them by being perfectly normal and acceptable human beings. I smiled weakly toward the lady on my left. Her beam was unabated as she shook her head so slightly. It seemed like I was more offended than she was.

Gratefully, they finally ran out of black people they knew. Unfortunately, this didn’t exhaust their will to speak. The woman looked over toward Plaid Grandma’s daughter and asked how old the woman was. “96”, the daughter replied politely as she went back to her magazine.

“She looks like she was quite a pip back in her day. I’ll just bet she was,” came the unnecessarily loud response from the woman who apparently assumed everyone was deaf. The daughter feigned a polite smile in response, as Plaid Grandma looked toward her child. Her expression clearly asking, “Why the hell are they talking about me like I’m already dead?”

Loud and Louder returned their attention to each other, and the conversation switched to airplanes. The whole room seemed to relax a bit. What could possibly go wrong with that topic?  Which is just about when Hubby launched into a rant about how fat people should have to buy two tickets. He didn’t get far before his wife, now using her indoor voice which was still clearly audible in the next room, hushed him saying this was not the right place for a topic like that.

He was undeterred. This was a man on a mission to reform the airline industry, one seat belt extender at a time. And his wife had no choice but to talk over him. She explained to him in no uncertain terms that there was a large woman sitting across from them, and that it was not appropriate for him to talk about this now.  She then pointed across the room to make her case clear.

The flagrant finger hung in the air while the now bickering couple inadvertently made their case for why they should be sacrificed in the spirit of social Darwinism. On the other side of the room (and the finger) the smiling woman was now shaking her head in disbelief… but still smiling. It was a genuine, pleasant, happy-to-be-alive and nobody’s-gonna-ruin-my-day smile.

This woman has mastered a level of serenity I find hard to glimpse, much less to hold.  She taught me that people may suck, but they don’t have to suck the life out of you… But let’s be clear. They still suck.