New Jersey born historian Michael B. Oren was a Zionist inspired-teenager, who, in 1970, when shaking hands with the Israeli Ambassador Yitzchak Rabin, promised himself that someday he would be Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
Like a great many American dreamers, Oren’s ambition was realized — sort of.
Oren was Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., 2009-2013, during Barack Obama’s first term. But the American administration under Obama had more in common with the Jewish folkloric town of Chelm, the town of wise fools, than with the leading nation of the free world.
Jewish children laugh at the tales of Chelm — with the dark comprehension that if things were run like Chelm, the world would be an upside-down place.
Under Obama Oren saw up close and personal Middle Eastern policy run by the wise fools of Chelm.
“Prophecy was not required to foresee that an Obama presidency might strain the U.S.-Israel alliance,” Oren writes in the early pages of his latest book, Ally.
As bad as things looked between Obama and the Israelis from the outside, it was even more poisonous on the inside. The hostility of Obama’s administration is evident on every page of this riveting, must-read 400 page memoir.
And don’t for a moment think that it’s because Obama and Bibi did not get along.
Oren’s first meeting at the State Department with then Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg set the tone: “He was a dedicated angler renowned for tying flies in his spare time. Fittingly, Steinberg’s attitude toward the Jewish state called to mind the old Israeli adage, ‘He loves us like a fisherman loves fish.’”
Obama’s administration was loaded with senior officials hostile to Israel who vigorously pursued a policy of “creating daylight” with Jewish state.
“The first thing Obama will do in office is pick a fight with Israel,” Oren tells Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the early days of the administration.
Obama was convinced that all the problems of the Middle East had their genesis in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Solve that problem, and everything else would fall into place. This delusional analysis is prime Chelm. And as history testifies, the unraveling of the Middle East under Obama’s watch has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and everything to do with Islamist supremacism, the Sunni-Shia conflict, and the chronic pathologies of the Arab Muslim world.
The tension between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel began during their first meeting at the White House, Oren recalls.
Obama demanded that Netanyahu cease all building not only in the territories but also in the disputed areas of Jerusalem, Oren writes.
“Not a single brick,” the president said. “I know how to deal with people who oppose me.”
This was a complete break from a diplomatic agreement reached under the Presidency of George H. Bush.
“Under the administration’s policy, a Jew could only build his home in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods but an Arab could build anywhere—even illegally—without limit. ‘In America,’ I said, ‘that’s called discrimination.’”
Oren recounts listening to Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo while stationed in the IDF’s headquarters. “Their reactions typified that of a great many Israelis.”
These commanders “scoffed at what they regarded as Obama’s inexperience with the Middle East, where magnanimity is often seen as weakness. They cringed at his tendency to equate America’s moral foibles with the honor killings, human trafficking, and the suppression of women, foreign workers, and indigenous minorities rampant in many Muslim countries,” Oren writes.
The battle-hardened IDF commanders became contemptuous when Obama “linked that legitimacy [of Israel] to the Jews’ ‘tragic history’ in the Holocaust. That linkage seemed to me to be the most damaging part of his speech.”
The Iranian march for nuclear weapons hit a critical point in the summer of 2009. The Obama administration publicly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.
Behind the scenes, though, the White House ordered Israel to stand down.
“Off camera … the message was ‘Don’t you dare,’” Oren writes. “Washington quietly quashed any military option for Israel.”
Netanyahu concluded: “American policy is now not to stop Iran but to stop Israel.”
This is a Obama/Chelm foreign policy par excellence.
Oren’s dealings with the liberal media were a thematic extension of the Obama White House. Oren called the New York Times editorial-page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, after the paper published an op-ed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which Abbas suggested the Arabs had accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947. The conversation went like this:
“When I write for the Times, fact checkers examine every word I write,” I began. “Did anybody check that Abbas has his facts exactly backward?”
“That’s your opinion,” Rosenthal replied.
“I’m an historian, Andy, and there are opinions and there are facts. That the Arabs rejected partition and the Jews accepted it is an irrefutable fact.”
“In your view.”
“Tell me, on June 6, 1944, did Allied forces land or did they not land on Normandy Beach?”
Rosenthal…replied, “Some might say so.”
When Mubarak was overthrown in the so-called Arab Spring, Oren is horrified to see State Department officials high-fiving each other. These are career bureaucrats whose understanding of the Middle East is frighteningly shallow.
And the bloodbath that now engulfs Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen is a direct result of Obama’s policies.
On every page of Oren’s memoir we are witness to an administration that is wedded to a far left ideology at the expense of reality.
Oren goes out of his way to say that he does not consider Obama to be anti-Israel. Oren thinks Obama is naive.
But no one is that naive. Not after so much blood has been spilled, and not in the wake of failed Westphalian nation states devolving into barbaric warring tribes.
Seraphic Secret thinks that Oren, now in the Knesset as a member of the center-left Kulanu party, is playing it safe under the assumption that he might have to work with some of Obama’s people sometime in the near future. Why antagonize a bunch of Jew-haters by calling them Jew-haters?
Early in the book, Oren recounts how he read Obama’s memoir “Dreams From My Father” and came away with the impression of a man who is “cold-blooded.” A man who, as a boy, was rejected by two Muslim fathers, and whose desperate outreach to the Muslim world is a pathetic attempt to reclaim those lost fathers.
One could dismiss this as psychobabble — but for the ring of truth.
The other day, a close friend, a wise rabbi wrote that we have but 18 months of Obama left.
I answered: “He can do a lot of damage in 18 months.”
Reading Oren’s invaluable book, drives home the fact that the the damage could be incalculable and irreversible.