President Obama’s anti-Israel shot at the UN is part of his pattern in foreign relations. One should not underestimate the damage done to Israel.
It’s a pattern: making things easier for enemies, making things harder for friends, in the greater Middle East.
That’s the larger context of President Obama’s decision to abstain on a very damaging anti-Israel resolution at the UN, Resolution 2334, on Dec. 23, 2016. He has always vetoed similar resolutions.
I. Foreign Relations
First, the pattern.
The common wisdom is that President Obama’s unprecedented abstention from an anti-Israel resolution at the virulently anti-Israel UN Security Council was his parting shot at Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular and at Israel in general. True, but look at the Obama abstention in the larger context of America’s Middle East affairs as he leaves office:
- ISIS and Syria.
- ISIS and al-Qaida.
- Russia and Ukraine.
- Iran and Lebanon.
ISIS [Islamic State in Syria] and Syria. President Obama originally referred to the devastatingly brutal ISIS as “JV.” Junior Varsity —a devastatingly incorrect, even flippant, analysis, leading to a woefully underplayed, initial hand against an actor that has contributed strongly to destabilization in Iraq and Syria.
When Obama took office, there was war neither in nor from Syria. With the outbreak of a popular uprising against the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in March, 2011, Obama could have undertaken a military act as relatively simple and safe (to us) as imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, like the one the US imposed over Iraqi Kurdistan for years after the 1991 Gulf War. Obama abdicated. He left Syrian civilians to the depredations of Assad and later ISIS and Russia. Now, it is much of Europe that is destabilized by the flood of Syrian emigrants.
Obama has presented the false choice between all out war and doing nothing. That has never been the only choice. No-fly zone, arming rebels, selected strikes for using weapons of mass destruction (as once threatened under Obama’s “red line”) — all this was available to the US and NATO. All this could have made a decisive difference. All this was not deployed.
ISIS and al-Qaida. The administration’s killing of the by then isolated, mostly impotent Osama bin Laden was assumed by Obama to put this group out of action. No systematic follow-up was undertaken. Another fatally flawed analysis and strategy. Jihadism, either directed or inspired by al-Qaida and others, continues in many parts of the world.
Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the war grinds on. Obama promised he would end this war. Perhaps a more aggressive effort by the Obama administration would have made a difference; perhaps not. Either way, the war in Afghanistan, with no end in sight, certainly puts a different gloss on Obama’s own summary analysis of his foreign policy, offered last Dec. 6, when he said:
“Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years without firing a shot. . . . Sustained diplomatic efforts, no matter how frustrating or difficult they sometimes appear, are going to be required to resolve the conflicts roiling in the Middle East, from Yemen, to Syria, to Israel and Palestine.”
Yemen. Diplomacy is credible when backed by a credible threat of force, noticeably absent from the Obama administration in the non-democratic countries of the Middle East, not just Syria but also Yemen. Yemen is in a hot war with Iranian and Saudi surrogates.
Russia and Ukraine. Obama’s diplomacy has been not just frustrating or difficult but an abject failure in the case of Russia, which, for four decades, had no foothold in the Middle East. Obama predicted Russia’s intervention in Syria as guaranteeing Russia a “quagmire.” Russia is triumphant, not “quagmired,” in control of the by now Syrian figurehead, Bashar Assad.
Russia is in control of Crimea. Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. The US, in 1994, pressured Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for an American promise to guarantee its borders. Yet, the US did not honor its guarantee to Ukraine. A terrible precedent — America’s violation of an international promise of protection — that Israel has no doubt paid close attention to (more on Israel below).
So much for Obama’s “reset” with Russia.
Iraq. Obama inherited a war in Iraq, which was strongly going in America’s favor, and in which he ended American participation without a status of forces agreement. This, in the end, has not prevented American troops from returning to and fighting in Iraq. It was the chaos in Iraq following the American withdrawal without a status of forces agreement that originally spawned ISIS.
Iran. Obama’s proudest foreign policy claim is Iran — the immediate subject of his “without a shot being fired” remark. What an irony. No shot was fired — and no other defense, even verbal — in defense of the courageous protesters against the dictatorial Iranian regime in 2009 was undertaken.
We credit the approach of Gen. James Mattis, nominated for secretary of defense, who said last April that “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East” is Iran. Iran inflames not only Syria but Iraq and Yemen, not to mention its threats to annihilate Israel. Iran dominates Lebanon through its proxy, the terrorist Hezbollah (which also brutalizes Syria).
Not to mention: Iran develops and tests long-range missiles, the nuclear deal notwithstanding. Even if this deal works as intended — a big if — it does not stop Iran from developing the capacity to reach not only Israel but Europe with its missiles.
Whether Mattis, if confirmed, will be able to do anything about the Iranian conventional threat remains to be seen. He expresses our fears — and the fears of not only Israel but also of many Middle East Arab leaders — about Iran. The first requirement of effective action is sober, realistic vision.
Libya. Libya, where Obama preferred to “lead from behind,” ended with the American ambassador and other Americans murdered by a mob. It was tawdry of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to accept a CIA “fake news” tactic to blame the mob on an anti-Muslim video, which her by now infamous emails showed that she knew to be false even at the time. Truth makes a difference.
Egypt. In a democratic election, Egypt elected the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. Obama backed it. In a coup, the Brotherhood was deposed. Obama opposed that. Since the coup, Israel and Egypt have been cooperating more strongly then ever.
We come to Obama’s abstention on the anti-Israel resolution at the UN. Look past the admittedly important symbolism. Look at Resolution 2334.
First: It stigmatizes Israeli settlements in the West Bank. By not vetoing this resolution, Obama shows that he has learned nothing about the heart of the Israel-Arab conflict. Since he took office, he has been obsessed with settlements. In part, settlements are a critical focus, and one may come down on either side of the debate as to whether they advance or retard peace. However, one cannot say, per Obama’s abstention, that they are the heart of the conflict. That dubious distinction belongs to the Palestinian and a wider Arab refusal to grant any legitimacy, on any territory, to a Jewish government in the Middle East.
Second: Resolution 2334 absolves the Palestinians of any fault for failure to negotiate. It has no motivation for diplomacy because . . .
Third: Resolution 2334 denies Israel’s right to any territory in Jerusalem, including Jewish West Jerusalem, and in the West Bank. This is contrary to UN Resolution 242, enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, which calls for Israel’s withdrawal from “territories” — not the territories — conquered in the Six Day War. Resolution 2334 conveniently clouds the indispensable security reason why Israel welcomed its new, unexpected, post-1967 boundaries: without them, Israel was nine miles wide at it narrowest point. Resolution 2334 renders null and void Israel’s right to any territory that widens it beyond nine miles.
That’s less than from Sheridan Boulevard to Holly Street.
Fourth: Resolution 2334 requires that all countries should distinguish between Israel “and the [emphasis added] territories occupied since 1967.” Notice the the. This part of Resolution 2334 renders null and void Israel’s right to widen itself beyond nine miles, a right acquired in the defensive war of 1967. This part of the resolution legitimates the boycott, divest and sanction movement against Israel.
Where does Resolution 2334 leave Israel? Living under a UN resolution designed to spur major anti-Israel sentiment and action around the world, while duly fortified by a very generous, 10-year Obama-sponsored military aid passage.
With respect to Israel, in witnessing the departure of Barack Obama from office, one thinks of Edwin Montagu, the British lawmaker who, yes, allowed the Balfour Declaration to proceed in 1917 — the foundational international basis of a Jewish state in Palestine — but in a weakened, diluted and dangerous form that the Jewish settlement and later the Jewish state have lived with ever since. Montagu bought himself, with his obstinacy, a badge of shame. Obama, his military aid to Israel notwithstanding, has done the same. For, rightly or wrongly, it is the last act that shapes a legacy.
As for foreign relations more broadly, Obama bequeaths a more dangerous Middle East than the one he found in January, 2009.
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