(February 26, 2015 / JNS)
I probably shouldn’t admit this, given that my political views are fairly well-known, but one of my favorite songs is “I’m So Bored With the USA,” by British punk legends The Clash.
“Yankee dollar talk to the dictators of the world,” spits vocalist Joe Strummer in the song’s opening verse. “In fact it’s giving orders, an’ they can’t afford to miss a word!”
Oh, how times have changed since “I’m So Bored” was released in 1977! The images of steely jawed, stone-hearted CIA officers conjured up by the song seem hopelessly dated. In today’s Barack Obama era, we reach out, we dialogue, we reset, and we remind the world that our own history is chock-full of misdemeanors that should give us pause before we start lecturing the rest of the world.
For many of our current influencers—magazines like Vox, think tanks like the Center for American Progress, NGOs like Human Rights Watch—this state of affairs is quite delightful. In Obama, America has a president who believes that humility should be the first rule of American foreign policy. The true test of moral fortitude, you see, lies not in what America does to other countries, including those that routinely abuse and persecute their own populations, but in what it doesn’t do.
Hence the Obama administration’s caving in to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Hence its disregard for the worsening human rights situation in China. Hence its insistence on lauding the Iranian regime’s newly found “moderation,” despite the fact that more dissidents have been executed under President Hassan Rouhani than under his predecessor, the Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I’ve made these and similar points many time before, and frankly, I’m getting bored of repeating them. And I’ve figured out why. It’s because I’m bored—SO bored—with the Obama administration.
Nothing exemplifies this better than the row between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the latter’s March 3 appearance before the U.S. Congress. Listening to the tone of some members of the Obama administration, you’d think that the Israel Defense Forces was now occupying large swathes of New Mexico. Netanyahu’s visit has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Charlie Rose in the latest rhetorical flourish directed towards Israel’s elected leader.
Yes, it’s a complicated situation. American Jewish leaders, who regard respect for protocol as a virtue next to godliness, are fretting that Netanyahu’s defiance towards Obama will complicate their relations with the White House. The visit has become an unwelcome factor in Israel’s own election, with Zionist parties who should be united in the face of the Iranian threat squabbling over the right way to treat Obama. Even Netanyahu himself is not above criticism; his decision to turn down a private meeting with Senate Democrats was short-sighted, if only because it fuels the perception on the left of their party that Netanyahu’s main job is running the Israeli branch of the GOP.
But then again—and I realize that I’m saying this right at the moment that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) just held its 2015 national policy conference from March 1-3 in Washington, DC—so what? The problem isn’t really Netanyahu, but the Obama administration’s conviction that Israel is now the main obstacle in the way of its strategy to remake the Middle East as the primary domain of the Iranian regime.
I am not someone who will use the epithet “anti-Semite” as a descriptor for the Obama administration, but I agree wholeheartedly with my friend David Hazony’s recent observation, in an article for The Tower magazine, that we are living in a political climate that presumes it is “the Jewish state that is the core problem in the world, the key obstacle to betterment.”
That idea is as dishonest and fantastical and anti-Semitic as the claim that the Jewish state is a replica of South Africa’s old apartheid regime, or that Israel has carried out a series of genocides in Lebanon and Gaza over the last decade. And yet it is one that presently holds sway among large sections of Washington’s foreign policy elite.
For that reason, the pro-Israel community must now grasp that the crisis in bilateral relations between the U.S. and Israel cannot be addressed by reference to those two countries alone. We need to point out that when Netanyahu comes to Washington, he is doing so not just on behalf of the Israeli people, but also the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, and other Arab states terrified of an Iranian nuclear weapon. We need to call out Obama’s hypocrisy in meeting with the Emir of Qatar just days after he correctly reminded the American public that slavery is one of the less salubrious parts our heritage. Yet Qatar is a state that practices slavery today. In recent years, thousands of migrant workers have died while building soccer stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, and thousands more have been taken prisoner by the kafala labor system, which allows employers to seize the passports of those whom they then force to work 12 or 13 hour days in Qatar’s searing, unforgiving heat.
Above all, we need to commit ourselves not to merely disputing this proposed nuclear deal with Iran—or holding polite, if mildly tense, poached salmon lunches with officials like Susan Rice. We as a pro-Israel community must declare that our aim is to wreck the deal, by demanding unfettered International Atomic Energy Agency access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and by reaffirming that any attempts to weaponize the Iranian nuclear program will be met with a military response if necessary.
After telling us that he was “so bored with the USA,” Joe Strummer plaintively asked, “But what can I do?” We have no reason to feel so powerless. Let us declare with one voice that we are so bored with the Obama administration.
“But what”—to paraphrase Strummer—“can we do?” A great deal. Like someone else once said, “Yes we can.”
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.