Until recently, it seemed as if the Obama Administration had dug itself out of the hole it created early on in its tenure with respect to national security and foreign policy. Osama bin Laden was dead. Expanded drone strikes against Al Qaeda targets in half a dozen countries had decimated that organization. U.S. forces are about to complete their pullout from Iraq. The strategy of leading from behind on Libyan intervention appears to have worked. The Mubarak regime was overthrown in Egypt so rapidly that it was easy to ignore the fact that Washington initially waffled on its policy. The IAEA published a new report vindicating U.S. efforts to impose tough sanctions on Iran. The reset in U.S.-Russian relations was on track and the administration was preparing to enter into another round of negotiations over further reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Suddenly, over the past few days, much of this sense of hard won competence and success seems to have evaporated. An accidental NATO airstrike on two Pakistani border posts has resulted in the most severe crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations of the last decade. The elections in Egypt look like an overwhelming victory for the Islamists. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev warned that his country would take concrete military steps, possibly including withdrawal from the New START treaty, if the U.S. did not agree to legally binding limits on its new missile defense system, the European Phased Adaptive Architecture.
So, why would the White House choose this moment to pick a fight with Israel? The internet has been abuzz over the past several days with remarks made by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at a conference sponsored by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center. While affirming the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security, Panetta seemed to go out of his way to criticize Israel’s foreign policy. He called on Israel to reconcile with Turkey, increase communication and cooperation with Egypt and get back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. Panetta is quoted as declaring that, “Now is the time for Israel to take bold action and to move towards a negotiated two-state solution.” Mind you, this conference was attended by senior Israeli politicians and government representatives. Clearly, the White House wanted a message sent.
Do I have this right? At a time when Egypt appears to be falling into the hands of Islamists including radical Salafists, Syria is descending into civil war, Hezbollah has begun firing rockets into Israel again, the Palestinians rejected U.S. pleas not to apply to the U.N. for statehood and the future of Libya is uncertain, at best, this is when the administration wants Israel to pursue reconciliation, communications and negotiations. Never mind that Israel and Turkey worked out arrangements to deal with a second flotilla heading for Gaza and that Ankara and Tel Aviv are being driven closer together by events in Syria. Also, please discount calls from Egyptian politicians to abrogate the peace treaty between that country and Israel. Then there is the growing possibility of conflict with Iran. Ignore that we are going into an election year which means that the Obama Administration will have precious little energy or time to devote to new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Now is the time for a 360-degree peace offense by Israel?
If anything, the uncertain situation in the Middle East would dictate the U.S. and Israel moving closer together. One of the best ways to encourage Israeli restraint at a time when its security is being assailed on all sides and one errant rocket hitting a school, or hospital could precipitate a new conflict, is to ensure there is no daylight between our two countries. The administration’s decision to choose this time to pick a fight with one of its closest allies is incomprehensible, to say the least.
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