On June 25, President Obama expressed “deep concern” about the fate of the kidnapped Israeli teens. President Obama provided assurances that the United States has been in constant communication with the Israelis and is working with a sense of urgency to provide support. The President said, “As a parent, I am heartbroken about what has happened.”
But if you’re waiting for the President’s critics to acknowledge that once again the President stands with Israel, you’ll be waiting a long time. There is a very simple formula for attacking any elected official on any issue following any crisis:
- Criticize the official for not saying anything, especially while facts are being gathered, to make it seem that he or she is indifferent.
- When a government spokesperson says something, say it’s not enough, no matter how clear and strong the statement. Say it only matters if the elected official personally says something.
- Ignore any action taken at the direction of the elected official; continue to insist on words spoken directly by the elected official, as if the words and actions taken by those who report to the elected official are meaningless.
- When the elected official eventually says something, no matter what it is, say it’s not enough and that it took too long to say something, no matter how long it took.
- Accuse the elected official of paying lip service to a problem that requires action, even though lip service is what you’ve insisted on from the beginning.
This strategy plays on the legitimate emotions of those who are truly concerned about the problem. People are nervous during a crisis, they want reassurance, they crave handholding, and this strategy plays right into those legitimate needs and fears.
We saw this playbook during the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping. President Obama was criticized for waiting more than three weeks to personally issue a statement. When he and Michelle did speak out, they and the #bringbackourgirls campaign were mocked as mere lip service, even though the purpose of the campaign was to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the dozens of girls and to persuade the Nigerian government to do more to free them. And of course the concrete action the President did take was deemed insufficient by the President’s critics (Sen. John McCain wanted to send special forces).
The playbook sprouted again following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists on June 12, but this time the President’s critics did not even wait three weeks. Never mind that the State Department issued a very strong statement in support of the kidnapped boys on June 15. Never mind that the Obama administration stood firmly with Israel at the U.N. and blocked an anti-Israel U.N. resolution. In emails, Facebook posts, and articles, we’ve seen steps 1-3 played out perfectly, with steps 4-5 coming soon.
This President can’t win with some people. If he walked across the Potomac they’d say he couldn’t swim. Never mind that military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel have reached all-time highs under President Obama. Never mind unprecedented levels of economic and military assistance to Israel under the Obama administration. Never mind the Obama administration’s perfect record of defending Israel at the U.N. Never mind President Obama’s support for Operation Pillar of Defense, his help when Israel was battling the Carmel forest fires, and his personal efforts to free the Israelis trapped in the Egyptian embassy.
And yet despite the President’s record of support for Israel, some people doubted, or asked us to doubt, that the President would speak out about the Hamas kidnappings. Not one Israeli Cabinet member, even the ones who are not shy about criticizing President Obama for real or imagined sleights against the Jewish state, criticized President Obama for not speaking sooner about the kidnappings. But that didn’t stop those suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome from striking again.
Sometimes it does matter when a president personally speaks. It matters that President Obama himself personally went to Cairo and reaffirmed the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel. It matters that President Obama himself has repeatedly and unequivocally said that Iran will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons. It matters that President Obama himself went to Israel, becoming only the fifth sitting president in history to do so. But did anyone doubt that the President wants the safe return of the three kidnapped boys? Did anyone really think that Israel is like Nigeria, and that without words from the President, Israel would not act to rescue the boys?
I’m glad President Obama spoke out about the kidnapped boys, but even if he sang Hatikvah it wouldn’t be enough for our Republican friends—they’d say he couldn’t carry a tune.
I’ve heard it said that President Obama is too rational, too cold, too much like Mr. Spock and not enough like Dr. McCoy. When I hear the constant whining and kvetching from a small but vocal minority of the Jewish community, I hope that what I’ve heard is true, because a president not guided by reason and facts would be tempted to throw up his hands in response to the silliness of some of our complaints. The kidnapping of the three boys matters. Worrying about exactly when the President personally said anything about them might be good Republican politics, but for the rest of us, it’s narishkeit.
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