Thursday, July 15, 2010

Obama’s Whiplash Diplomacy


by  Rick Richman


The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him "a bad case of whiplash":

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn't prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the "unwaverings" and "unbreakables" to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the "testy" meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a "terrific" meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama's new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama's "unwavering commitments" are becoming the new "let me be clear." They include his "unwavering" commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: "Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering." This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama's reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama's actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.


Rick Richman

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