Obama's Israel Trip: One Step Forward After Three Steps Back

Obama's Israel Trip: One Step Forward After Three Steps Back

President Barack Obama deserves some credit for his upcoming trip to Israel. Better late than never, as the saying goes. Yet the same does not apply to Obama’s policy on Iran, which might well deserve the inverse: better never than late. 

Sometime in the next several months, Iran will either achieve a nuclear weapon or be close enough to put one together. At that point, the balance of power will shift against the U.S.–permanently.

An Iranian nuclear weapon will be more than a deterrent against attack by the U.S. or Israel. Given Iran’s proxy armies, missile technology, and global terror cells, a nuclear weapon would be a global threat. A nuclear weapon would also entrench the Iranian regime against its political opponents–who include the Iranian people themselves. 

Visiting Israel sends an important signal of U.S. solidarity, one significant step forward. Yet Obama has also taken three major steps backward with the appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, John Kerry as Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan as CIA Director. All three men have shown an eagerness to appease radical sentiment in the Muslim world, and to embrace ideologically hostile regimes and groups. Hagel in particular had, until his nomination, completely ruled out a military option against Iran.

President Obama has also sent mixed signals about the policy agenda for his Israel visit, which will include visits with Palestinian leaders. At first the White house said that his trip would not include a push for talks between Palestinians and Israelis. He had made that mistake in his first term, when pressuring Israelis to make deep concessions only hardened Palestinian demands and strengthened Israeli suspicions of Obama.

Yet in recent meetings with Arab-American leaders, Obama has appeared to change course, with reports emerging that he is going to use the political clout of re-election and the goodwill of his first presidential visit to renew pressure on the Israeli government to offer concessions to Palestinians once again. Ironically, the threat of a nuclear Iran may give Obama some leverage, since Israel feels more vulnerable than it ever has before.

It is clear that Israel has little more to give. The Palestinians tore up what was left of the Oslo peace agreements in obtaining statehood status at the United Nations last year–unilaterally, and without consultation with Israel. In Gaza, Hamas and other terror groups continue to rebuild rocket stockpiles after the losses of Operation Pillar of Cloud in Nov. 2012, with assistance from Iranian funds, arms, and military technicians.

If anything, President Obama should use his trip to Israel as an opportunity to speak out about Palestinian obligations under past agreements, and the need to accept Israel’s legitimacy and permanence as a Jewish state. Instead of vowing to rebuild Palestinian unity on the foundation of a new intifada, as both Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh recently pledged to do, they should prepare their people to accept an end to conflict.

Many, if not all, of President Obama’s foreign policy decisions are driven by left-wing ideology first, domestic political considerations second, and national interest a distant third. In traveling to Israel, the president’s primary aim is to fulfill a promise he made when his poor record on Israel came up during the 2012 campaign. Obama deserves some credit–but criticism for a Middle East policy that continues to project weakness.