Michael Totten

A Defense of Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama is getting grief from all corners for refusing to say anything substantial about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It’s a legitimate complaint up to a point. Obama deliberately campaigned as a Rorschach candidate upon whom would-be supporters could project their own views. The downside to Obama’s strategy is that potential opponents can also project their criticisms onto him and he’ll be left with too few friends instead of too many. In this case, both supporters and enemies of Israel who assume Obama agrees with them can criticize him for not speaking up.
In less than two weeks, when Obama is officially inaugurated as President of the United States, this will change. A president has to take a position and live with the consequences. Executive leaders must stand alone with their decisions and cannot vote “present.”
That said, I’d like to weigh in here as supportive of Obama’s decision to keep quiet.
I don’t know what Obama really thinks about Israel’s war in Gaza, but I can guess. He has a track record of relevant statements, and “his most recent was this one”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/12/the_gaza_war.php: “If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” It’s possible, though, that he only said that to reduce skepticism among Israelis. Perhaps Obama is quietly joining France’s Nicolas Sarkozy in “his condemnation of Israel”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/05/sarkozy-gaza-israel-ceasefire instead of quietly joining Germany’s Angela Merkel in “her support”:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3646569,00.html.
Whatever he thinks, his silence ought to be welcomed among supporters of Israel for at least one of two reasons.
If Obama opposes Israel’s use of force to defend itself from missile attack, he deserves credit for keeping his opinion to himself while he is not actually president. As he has stated on several occasions: the United States only has one president at a time. “We can’t have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time,” “he says”:http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iH2sWK6L75ntNmA5ZTOc_UTpCh_gD95ID4FO0. “We simply can’t do it.” He could try to undermine the current President Bush, but he’s right that it wouldn’t be proper.
On the other hand, perhaps he silently supports Israel’s short operation in Gaza against a terrorist army with whom he himself repeatedly said he would refuse to negotiate. If he said so out loud, though, his global “hope and change” honeymoon would be over before it even began. It’s not in his interest to hobble himself from the start, nor is it in America’s interest or Israel’s.
“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/49551.