Media Matters Action Network senior foreign policy fellow MJ Rosenberg was on al-Jazeera boasting that President Obama purposely humiliated Benjamin Netanyahu to send a signal to the Arab world. Although Media Matters is widely believed to be close to the White House, the question remains: how does Media Matters know what is in the President’s heart? And if Media Matters is telling the truth, what is the effect of sending such a signal?
“When Netanyahu came to Washington, no president has ever treated an Israeli prime minister as coldly as Netanyahu was treated by Obama,” Rosenberg said, with obvious joy, to what was presumably a largely Arab audience.
“Suddenly Israel today is, even though it gets what it wants to a certain extent, Israel is treated as another country, a foreign country, which makes it no different than all the other foreign countries. That is what Obama is trying to do: take Israel away from being the 51st state and make it a foreign country like Lebanon or France or any normal foreign country.”
“He has done that,” Rosenberg added. “You know, he has sent the Arab world signals from day one of where his heart is.”
Speaking of Lebanon, there are now reports that Hezbollah’s power in that country are waning fast. Walid Jumblatt, who can be counted on to know on which side his bread is buttered has just sensed which way the wind is blowing. “Jumblatt has certainly made a slow but complete turn against the Syrian regime, which means that, as one of the main politicians who determines the political majority in Lebanon, he is stepping outside the orbit of Hezbollah.”
In this fast-changing atmosphere Lee Smith says the President is simply watching while the Russians move into the region, something which has scared him into inaction, lest the Russians move in faster.
It’s waiting on a Putin change of heart because it fears that U.S. material support of the Free Syrian Army will convince the Russians that the conflict is a proxy war. But the Russians already perceive it as a proxy war. So do the Iranians, which is why both are pouring in as much support as they can to keep Assad afloat. The administration’s response to Russian intransigence was to hold a Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia that was so incommensurate with the bloody reality it aimed to address that even the Saudi foreign minister stormed out in disgust.
For the United States, the key issue should be countering Iran. As General James Mattis, the head of CENTCOM, said, the fall of Assad would be “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.” During his Senate testimony the next day, Panetta agreed that it would hurt the Islamic Republic. The good news then is that the administration is starting to see how the pieces are arrayed on the game board. The bad news is that it’s still wary about taking the other side’s pieces.
But being afraid to let your pawn take the enemy queen is not nearly as bad as putting your own queen where the enemy pawn can capture it. And that, if Rosenberg’s words are to be taken at face value, is exactly what the administration has to boast about to Al Jazeera. It is poor salesmanship to boast, ‘look we threw Israel under the bus to send a signal to you’ when they have just finished doing the same to the Egyptian President. As an act of fake moral vanity is vaguely understandable. As an act of statecraft and strategy it is lunacy.
Perhaps the thinking is that if America disarms enough, allows itself to be pushed around sufficiently and curls itself into a small enough ball then other people will become more reasonable. Does this work in the Middle East?
Rosenberg seems eager to exhibit a perverse desire to be praised for the custom of throwing your friends under the bus. For did he not in effect say to his audience: ‘yesterday Mubarak, today Netanyahu’? He ought not be surprised if his listeners conclude: “then tomorrow us”. It seems like a poor way of inspiring loyalty among allies and rousing them to action.
An administration that boasts of its communications skills has proved itself remarkably poor at sending signals . Perhaps taking to heart Osama Bin Laden’s dictum that “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse,” they it interpreted it to mean, “the wrong horse”. It wouldn’t be the first time they were more than slightly off. Really, what is the material difference between a horse and horse chestnut?