Beating Bibi: Obama’s Last Campaign

Barack Obama has proven to be a determined man when it comes to achieving goals he really cares about. He may not get everything he wants when he wants it, but he has shown that there is often more than one way to advance his agenda, and he can be patient when the political environment is unfavorable. This has been true on both the domestic front and in foreign policy.

Obama has used federal agencies such as the EPA and NLRB to move aggressively to favor Obama interests (bashing coal producers, making it easier for workers to organize into unions) when Congress did not adopt climate change legislation or “card check” legislation. The Department of Health and Human Services has regularly changed the rules of Obamacare, seemingly making the rules up as they go along when it became clear that certain provisions were either very badly conceived or politically unpalatable to important Obama interest groups.

There has also been subterfuge to make it seem that the abuse of the separation of powers and routine bypassing of Congress has not really occurred. The president says he has issued far fewer executive orders than prior presidents, when in fact he has issued far more when you include his memoranda -- which serve the same purpose.

In foreign policy, the administration has pursued several policies with the same doggedness. One of these has been to damage the historically close ties between Israel and the United States. The alternative way to say this is that so long as Israel elects leaders who do not see things the way the administration does, it will be very much out of favor with the White House.

Over the first six years of the Obama administration, there is little that Israel under the leadership of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has ever done right according to the White House or the State Department. Conversely, almost nothing the Palestinians have done has been called out for similar criticism. Meanwhile, the administration has pursued a new relationship with Iran (much as it has with Cuba), signaling that traditional alliances and enmities were out the window with this administration. The obsession of Secretary of State Kerry with pushing the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the Iranian nuclear negotiations seems to be a mix of legacy-building for both Kerry and Obama, but also part of the shift away from the traditional alliance with Israel.

A goal of the White House seems to have been to break the bipartisan support for a strong U.S-Israel relationship in Congress by making it far easier for Democrats to go their own way. In essence, the White House has facilitated a transition within the party to better reflect the views of the Democratic Party’s base, now heavily made up of younger voters and minorities, among whom there is not nearly as much support for Israel as in the past. The Obama administration has set in place a longer-term process to separate Democrats in Congress from their historic role as strong supporters of Israel.

Whether Obama is following his base on this issue or leading it is a different question. As the single most visible political figure in government, when a president is viewed as being engaged in a bitter feud with a foreign leader, as the press has dutifully reported is the case between Netanyahu and Obama, a strong message has been delivered. This message particularly gets to those who support the president in general, and on pretty much all specific issues. The president has also blessed and opened the White House’s door to J Street, an organization allegedly committed to both Israel and peace. In reality, the group is a “blocking back for the White House," as its own leaders have admitted, for the regular Israel-bashing and pressure campaign that has been underway since both Obama and Netanyahu took office in 2009. If one looks for instances of J Street uttering a kind word about Netanyahu, you will find even fewer than those from the president himself.