On his way out the door, the retiring U.S. ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, has belatedly acknowledged that he “screwed up” in one of his last major actions.
He’s just the latest in a growing line of U.S. diplomats who have admitted—when it was too late—that they made significant errors in their treatment of Israel. So why does anybody still listen to them when they offer advice on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, Nides was asked about his outrageous tweet commenting on the June 20 massacre of four Israelis by Palestinian-Arab terrorists. The four victims were defenseless civilians in a restaurant; their “crime” was eating lunch while Jewish.
The tweet was outrageous on multiple levels. Nides equated the Arab slaughter of innocent civilians with Israel’s anti-terrorist operation in Jenin that week; he failed to acknowledge that the victims of the massacre were Jews or that the killers were Arabs; and he lumped Israeli victims and dead Jenin terrorists together, saying that both deserved prayers and mourning.
Nine days later, when it was too late to make a difference, Nides acknowledged to Israel Hayom: “I screwed up … it was a stupid thing to do.” Unfortunately, he then trotted out assorted excuses: “I had just returned from Los Angeles when I got word of the attack. I was shown a draft of a tweet, and I signed off on it.” Translation: “I was tired, somebody else wrote it, so it wasn’t totally my fault.” Not a very impressive apology.
Isn’t it remarkable how often this kind of thing happens to Israel?
Recall, for example, the infamous episode of Dennis Ross and the terror tunnels.
As a senior aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, Ross pressured Israel to let Hamas bring concrete into Gaza. Here’s how Ross recalled it: “I argued with Israeli leaders and security officials, telling them they needed to allow more construction materials, including cement, into Gaza so that housing, schools and basic infrastructure could be built. They countered that Hamas would misuse it, and they were right.” That admission came six years too late.
Thanks to Ross’s pressure, Hamas built “a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bunkers, command posts and shelters for its leaders, fighters and rockets,” as Ross acknowledged. They built the tunnels with “an estimated 600,000 tons of cement,” some of which was “diverted from construction materials allowed into Gaza” (The Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2014).
He also belatedly admitted that he and his colleagues in the Obama administration were wrong to abandon the anti-government protesters in Iran in 2009. It was a chance to undermine and perhaps even topple the most evil regime on earth—and Ross blew it. Writing in the journal Foreign Policy on Jan. 2, 2018, Ross confessed:
“In June 2009, I was serving in President Barack Obama’s administration as the secretary of state’s special advisor on Iran and was part of the decision-making process. Because we feared playing into the hands of the regime and lending credence to its claim that the demonstrations were being instigated from the outside, we adopted a low-key posture. In retrospect, that was a mistake. We should have shined a spotlight on what the regime was doing and mobilized our allies to do the same.”
And don’t forget the case of Aaron Miller and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
In an op-ed in 2010 in The Washington Post, Miller revealed that he was the U.S. State Department official who came up with the plan to have Yasser Arafat visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1998 in order to help Arafat improve his public image.
In the article, Miller acknowledged that his plan would have meant “appropriating the memory” of the Holocaust for narrow political purposes, and therefore was “one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S. foreign policy” (The Washington Post, Aug. 18, 2010).
I doubt we’ve heard the last from Nides. In recent decades, the typical professional route for former ambassadors to Israel has led to Washington think tanks and academic appointments that provide them with new platforms to offer “advice” to Israel.
For more than 30y years, State Department officials past and present have been offering such advice—pressuring Israel for one-sided concessions, proposing risky “peace” plans that would endanger Israel’s security, and smearing Israel’s good name in the international press.
Had Israel’s leaders heeded their advice in the past, the Jewish state would have paid a terrible price. To judge from the belated admissions of these officials, Israel was wise to ignore them.