US President Barack Obama is learning the hard way that being shaped by the media into the image of John Kennedy or even Abraham Lincoln has its drawbacks and being an agent of change isn’t as easy as his campaign talk has led us to believe.
Obama is no doubt sincere when he talks about connecting with the Muslim world and is willing to listen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made overtures to Iran and the Iranian government has responded in a cautious, if not positive, manner.
The British government now wants to negotiate with Hezbollah and talks with Hamas could very well follow. I think that somewhere down the line the US government may follow the British.Yet for all of its happy talk of engaging Arabs in dialogue to bring peace to the Middle East, the Obama administration, much like previous administrations, wears the yoke of Israel around its neck.
And it appears easier to wear that yoke rather than shake it off and implement real change in the US government’s foreign policy towards Israel.Charles W. Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Bush administration, is somewhat of a maverick – at least by Washington, DC standards – when it comes to his views on Israel. He was under consideration to be named chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which supplies Obama with daily intelligence briefings.
It’s a key post as the top intelligence analyst that helps shape the response of the US to Middle East issues and events. Freeman’s nomination signaled Obama’s sincerity to effect change in US foreign policy. Here was a man who supports Israel as a friend and ally, but also sees the world for what it really is and is not afraid to take Israel to task for its conduct against the Palestinians.
According to the New York Times, Freeman said in 2006 that, “left to its own devices, the Israeli establishment will make decisions that harm Israelis, threaten all associated with them and enrage those who are not.” And as recently as this week, he said that “Israel is driving itself toward a cliff, and it is irresponsible not to question Israeli policy and to decide what is best for the American people.”These are incendiary views in Washington, if not heresy, to condemn or criticize Israel.
Outside of Washington in many parts of the world, it is the opinion of a man who is demonstrating common sense with blunt talk. Sometimes the truth hurts and people don’t like it much. This kind of talk has landed Freeman in hot water. His comments attracted the attention of the Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee and New York Democrat Senator Charles E. Schumer.
Schumer began a lobbying effort to pressure the Obama administration to dump Freeman because he is viewed as too pro-Arab and an enemy of Israel. Schumer provided White House officials with transcripts of Freeman’s speeches and writings that ultimately led Freeman to withdraw his name from consideration for the post. Freeman complained that he was the victim of “character assassination” by the Israel lobby for taking his comments out of context.
Obama didn’t ask Freeman to step aside but to its shame the White House didn’t stand up to the pressure. Instead, Obama’s team buckled under implied threats that to refuse to unconditional support of Israel is somehow anti-Semitic and sympathetic to terrorists.There is something pathological in America’s slavish support of Israel. Elected officials there have yet to learn they can remain a staunch ally of Israel but still question, if not criticize, its foreign policy.
The US government has never been shy about criticizing the foreign policies of the British government, and has certainly made it no secret its disdain for some policies of Germany and France. Yet Israel is hands-off. Freeman is not stupid. He works for a president who has unequivocally given his support to Israel. Freeman’s job, like Hillary Clinton’s, is to implement the president’s policies. But what Freeman brings to the table is a clear-eyed view of what Israel’s destructive policies bring to the Middle East.
Freeman is not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. He would certainly support Israel but also bring a much needed reality check of what is going on in the Middle East.Unfortunately, full change is not coming to Washington anytime soon. There is fear and a malaise in the US government that prevents it from looking for practical solutions to the Middle East crisis.
That solution is to reexamine US support for a country bent on the destruction and humiliation of the Palestinian people. But as long as the US cowers in the corner every time Israel voices its displeasure over anything remotely critical of its government, then it will remain business as usual.