Obama and the Democrats

The Obama offensive to garner support ahead of a possible deal with Iran has run into some headwinds.  The administration’s intensive lobbying campaign directed towards Democrats in Congress is, according to the Wall Street Journal, based on the argument “that opposing President Barack Obama would empower the new Republican majority.” Apparently there are reports that the administration has come to the realization that Congress will have to have a say, no matter how minimal, and is trying to come up with something to assuage a lot of congressional ruffled feathers.

The administration is also relying on liberal and progressive groups to do outreach in support of a deal.  Their pitch is that to oppose a deal, even a bad one, would mean going to war with Iran.  At the forefront of this effort is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, who has appeared frequently on major TV talk shows speaking on behalf of negotiations and acceptance of a deal. His group has invested over $7 million over the past few years in think tanks, activist groups and friendly media that favor the administration’s position.  Also working as a shill for the administration is J Street, which had even lobbied against sanctions altogether a few years ago. At their recent convention, the keynote was delivered by James Baker, who, as George H.W. Bush’s secretary of State, developed a strong anti-Israel policy and who famously said at the time, “f*** the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” By featuring Baker, the Obama front group is trying to make it appear that to oppose Israel is bipartisan.

Unlike J Street’s peculiar way of being a “pro-Israel” organization, Obama is finding that the majority of American Jews and the leadership of Jewish organizations are not happy with his treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel.  This is causing problems for Jewish Democrats in Congress and those who have significant numbers of  Jewish constituents.  Ben Rhodes was sent out to meet with them and bring them in line.  At the meeting, according to Politico, he was told that the president’s “aggressive approach” to Netanyahu was a problem.  As one congressmen said, “you want us to go out and say the administration’s got Israel’s back.  How are you going to get us to say that when our constituents believe that the administration is stabbing Israel in the back?” Describing the meeting as “tense,” the report summed up how the Democrats felt:

Obama and his aides, they said, had to stop acting as if the Israeli prime minister’s comments are the only thing holding up a peace process that’s been abandoned for a year while not expressing a word of disappointment about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — and openly toying with allowing the Palestinians their provocative recognition bid at the United Nations. The swipes at Netanyahu felt vindictive, and gratuitous.

Some Senate Democrats are saying that despite their opposition on tactical grounds to Tom Cotton’s letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, they, too, are wary about any administration deal signed with Iran.

The administration is tamping down its rhetoric, but it’s still not clear what they are going to do at the UN, where they have threatened to support a UN Security Council resolution that would declare a Palestinian state.

As columnist Jackson Diehl writes in the Washington Post, “For nearly half a century, the United States has taken the position that the terms for a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians must come about as the result of negotiations and not as an imposition by outside parties.” Now, the administration is letting it be known that it is considering imposing its will upon Israel by possibly supporting Palestinian demands that the borders for a Palestinian state be based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and that Jerusalem be the capital for both Israel and a new Palestinian state. The result of this pressure could well be what Diehl thinks is a likely outcome, “an unprecedented breach in U.S.-Israeli relations, and a vast acceleration of the global movement to boycott and sanction the Jewish state in the likely event it resisted the U.N. terms. But judging from Obama’s demeanor in assailing Netanyahu last week, the president might welcome that legacy, too.” (my emphasis)

Perhaps Hillary Clinton is sensing a shift and hence is putting some daylight between her and Obama’s posture towards Israel.  Her remarks to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, are widely being reported as evidence of a desire to restore the “special relationship” behind Israel and U.S. relations, to put it on a “constructive footing,” and to support negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians as the only way to achieve a two-state solution.

Jennifer Rubin isn’t buying it and argues that Clinton’s words are “vague and noncommittal,” and hardly sufficient to show that if she were president, she would not be an antagonist to Israel. Clinton, she notes, supported Obama’s outreach to Iran, had previously scolded Netanyahu about housing in Israel, and ambushed him with her speech on pre-1967 borders. Rubin thinks thatClinton is engaging in “posturing,” and does not really care about the Jewish state, and hence will not make statements that are not ambiguous and general. “The erosion in the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Rubin writes, “began on her watch.”

All this is certainly true. Nevertheless, since the administration is essentially threatening to permanently turn against Israel at the UN and possibly not oppose the attempt of its enemies to bring it before the International Court to be tried for war crimes, Clinton knows that appearing to support the president’s policies might well lose her many votes, especially since all potential Republican candidates (except perhaps Rand Paul) are firm supporters of Israel.

I personally wouldn’t trust anything Hillary Clinton says; she will say what is convenient and regularly change her policies to go with what she thinks is the popular sentiment. She may have been “an enabler in Obama’s anti-Israel” crusade, as Rubin thinks, but now that she is out of  office, she is moving ever so slightly in the opposite direction.

Obama’s foreign policy is in shatters (or in “free fall,” as Walter Russell Mead puts it) as the United States seems to be helping Iran realize its goal of becoming the preeminent power in the Middle East. Obama is also changing his policy towards Syria from one of demanding that Bashir Assad step down, to welcoming him as an ally in the fight against ISIS -- even though his regime has already murdered over 200,000 Syrians and is supported by Iran.

At this point, any opposition to Obama’s policies by Democrats should be encouraged. Obama is doing this because he can’t afford to have the Democrats also turn against him.  Obama, it seems, is both desperate for a deal and desperate to not let any of his Democratic support erode. Judging by how inept and dangerous his policy prescriptions are, let's hope he will not be successful.