As part of his public reconciliation with Israel, Obama for the first time in the almost 18 months since he became president just gave an interview to an Israeli TV station (this from the same American president who gave his first interview in office to Al-Arabiya — remember that ?). Speaking Wednesday to Israel’s Channel 2 News, Obama struck a friendly tone.
And yet, as if he can’t quite help himself, out comes this astonishingly crude remark. As reported in the New York Times, he was asked about “the anxiety of many Israelis who feel that he does not have a special bond with Israel.” Obama replied — get ready for it: “Some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion.”
Come again? There are Americans who have wondered about that middle name, less because it is “Hussein” than because it has lived a strange life of its own, fading in and out depending on the audience — disappearing during Obama’s 2008 election campaign, reappearing during his outreach to the “Muslim world,” coming and going as if it mattered in some malleable way to Obama himself. Has he ever considered that public worry about his middle name might have more to do with the slippery nature of its use, and the too often disturbing policies of its owner, than with the name itself?
And for Obama to impute Israeli anxiety to his Cheshire Cat of a middle name is grossly dismissive and insulting to the Israelis. Does he really believe they are such bigots as to judge him — other things equal — by his middle name? Does he have any evidence for that? Or was he drawing on his own stereotype of Israelis? How exactly was he judging them, when he tossed out that remark?
I’ll venture a wild guess that the problem for Israelis is not Obama’s name — first, last, or middle — but his flim-flam fictions and negligence regarding too many hard and dangerous realities in the Middle East. Since becoming commander-in-chief of Israel’s most important ally, America, Obama has repeatedly bypassed or undermined Israel’s very real concerns about self-defense. He has been content to leave Israel in the impossible position of being constrained to wait upon his own feckless policy of apologies and “outreach” toward the “Muslim world,” while Iran races toward nuclear weapons and its leaders trumpet their desire to wipe Israel off the map, in concert with the goals of Iran’s terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah — bordering Israel out of Gaza and Lebanon.
Perhaps it’s Obama himself who’s been paying too much attention to his own middle name — betting that by sheer force of personal style, by extending his hand and averting his eyes, he can turn tyrants and terrorists into well-behaved pals. Step-by-step, realities have been interfering with that approach, and to some extent, this has begun moderating Obama’s policies. It’s been a while since he last advertised his abilities to conjure peace out of negotiating with Iran’s mullahs “without preconditions.” On July 1, presented with an overwhelmingly approved bipartisan bill by Congress, he finally gave the OK to enhanced Iran sanctions. And, having snubbed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May, Obama recovered his manners during a meeting this week.
If this is Obama’s public education we are observing, it is an unnerving performance — slow, shaky, half-baked and resting on no discernible set of principles likely to instill confidence in any of America’s allies. It has a lot of Americans feeling pretty nervous too. As long as this is the tenor of Obama’s leadership, it doesn’t matter whether his name is Barack Hussein Obama or Digby Abraham Buckley III. There are life and death matters here in which he has been failing the test as leader of the Free World, and that — not his middle name — is the problem.