Arrogance: America, Bibi, and Beinart

Yet another Beinart article, with more remarks by yours truly.

Why Are Obama Officials So Mad at Netanyahu? Because They Can’t Get Even.

Obama’s not the first president to loathe Bibi. But the others could retaliate against him at home. By Peter Beinart,, 11/4/2014.

“Chickenshit” is definitely not the worst thing an American official has said about Benjamin Netanyahu. In 1989, James Baker temporarily barred him from the State Department. After his first meeting with the newly elected Netanyahu in 1996, Bill Clinton exclaimed, “Who the fuck does he think he is? Who’s the fucking superpower here?” In 2011, Robert Gates called Bibi “ungrateful.”

I don’t know.  Bill Clinton fuckingly questions the Bibi–U.S. relationship, and Gates calls Bibi ungrateful.  I still think chickenshit is worse than both, but why quibble?

Several factors explain this hostility. First, Bibi is a man of the right, and thus particularly frustrating for American officials eager to limit settlement growth and generate a meaningful peace process. Second, Bibi is a de facto American. He attended high school in the United States, college in the United States, graduate school in the United States, got married (for the first time) in the United States, got his first full-time job in the United States and held American citizenship until he was in his thirties.

So Bibi’s political opponents call him names.  Why? Because he is their political opponent and does things Obama and co. don’t like.

And also, because like them, Bibi is, culturally and historically, an American.  And American officials who want to mix into Israeli affairs don’t like it that Bibi is better at talking to the American public than they are. Some might call this hypocrisy.  Others might call it irony.  But I believe the industry term is “sore loser.”

Why does Bibi’s Americanism outrage American officials? Because it fuels his arrogance. During his time as Israel’s United Nations ambassador in the 1980s, Netanyahu forged deep ties to the American Jewish establishment and to the Republican Party, ties that have only deepened since. These elite bonds, plus Netanyahu’s ability to speak to ordinary Americans in their own idiom (he sprinkles his speeches to U.S. audiences with American cultural references) have convinced him that he can best American presidents on their own turf… Bibi hasn’t changed: He’s as arrogant as ever. But the Americans have. In the past, US officials didn’t need to lash out as much verbally because they could make Bibi pay for his defiance. The Obama team can’t.

Think back to late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, James Baker didn’t only bar Netanyahu from Foggy Bottom after the then-deputy foreign minister tried to scuttle America’s secret talks with the PLO. He and President George H.W. Bush refused to give Netanyahu’s boss, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the loan guarantees he wanted to resettle Soviet immigrants absent a halt in settlement growth. Bush and Baker also pushed Shamir to participate in peace talks in Madrid that included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The result: Shamir’s right-wing government fell; Israel held elections, and Shamir lost to Yitzhak Rabin.

In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration struck back at Bibi even harder. In his memoir, “Innocents Abroad,” Martin Indyk writes that in 1999, Bill Clinton “sent” his own political consultants, “Robert Shrum, Stanley Greenberg and James Carville to help get [Ehud] Barak elected.”

So Beinart tells us that the US brings down Israeli governments, gets its own man elected there, and Bibi is the arrogant one in the relationship?!

Obama has never been able to retaliate against Bibi that way. His unpopularity in Israel has limited his ability to play politics there. More importantly, the collapse of the Israeli center-left has left the White House without a credible Barak-like challenger to get behind. As a result, Netanyahu has felt free to boost Obama’s domestic opponents without Obama being able to do the same.

For Obama, the consequences have been grim. When Netanyahu opposes an Obama administration policy, many top Democrats and Republicans in Congress rally to the Israeli leaders’ side. In Israel, by contrast, Netanyahu doesn’t feel the same level of political heat.

In other words, both in Israel and the US, people support Bibi and not Obama. Hey Peter, ever wonder why?

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