Say It Ain’t So, Mr President (Or at least – don’t say it in the first place)

For most of us, the prospect of sudden unemployment looming ever closer would be a cause for great anxiety. Feel, then, for President Obama, who – depending on the results due in just under two weeks – may be coming toward the end of the last job he will ever hold.

Facing the proposition of the sack, the majority among us would seek out what fallacies and mistakes had led us to this point and quickly work to rectify them.

Whilst I don’t imagine for even the briefest of moments that President Obama will be re-elected on the back of any foreign policy change alone, it seems to me that in light of the bombardment of the south of Israel and the Gaza-envelope communities, it may be interesting to delve into the recent and the not-so-recent past, to when the incumbent President was a mere Senator and view some of his statements with that most dangerous of weapons – hindsight. I certainly have a few questions.

Mr President (and as an Englishman, I don’t get to say that enough):

Is it not true that in a speech to AIPAC last year, you told of how your trip to Sderot had reminded you of “…the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.”

Mr President, is it not further the case that in a speech to the residents of Sderot themselves in 2008, you said that ”In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries.”

Well Mr. President, like it or not, Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections and is the representative head of the Gazan people. Recognized as a nation state or not, Hamas is still using terror as a weapon some four years after your speech, is still deeply influenced by other countries and is still threatening to wipe Israel off the map. So nu? You’ve had four years to talk. You’ve had four years to convince, to argue, to coerce, to assuage.

I can give you 80 proofs in the last 24 hours alone that those four years of rhetoric might not have been totally successful.

Mr President:

In your debate with Governor Romney on October 3rd, did you not say that the first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe? It’s reassuring to see that your most basic security policy hasn’t changed since that same day in 2008, when you told the world in the same speech as before that “The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens.”

Did you not also suggest that, as a father, you would do everything within your power to stop any rockets that would be aimed at your daughters?


That’s certainly what “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that…” seems to suggest. I wonder therefore, what you would say to the parents of children who are spending their schooldays in bombshelters – whether through necessity because of safety or because the roofs of their bedrooms have been torn down by missiles.

Better yet, why not let your kids have a sleep over in Sderot for the next couple of weeks? The weather would be wonderful and they’d have great fun with kids their own age. They might even pick up a good looking Israeli boy. Sure, all the fun and the play dates might be spoiled by having to dodge the not-so-occasional rocket – but then, as a father, we know you’d step right in and straighten it out.

Mr President:

On August 20th, did you not go on national television and announce that the use or movement of chemical weapons by the Syrian goverment would be a ‘red line’ that could trigger a severe American intervention? I seem to remember the phrase ‘enormous consequences’ being mentioned somewhere.

Now, without belittling or in any way lessening the importance of understanding the threat and devastation that missiles armed with chemical warheads could cause, I wonder if 80 rockets landing somewhere between Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Square would constitute a red line, upon which the American government would be forced to act. No? How about somewhere along the border between North Dakota and your troublesome neighbour to the North?

Surely, a man with “…an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” and the leader of a country who “..will always stand by the people of Israel..” would not suggest that this is not a most sincere casus belli – the likes of which have never been seen by most Westernized, democratic countries. If so – please Mr. President – what would you consider an act of war? A red line? And of course, standing by the people of Israel, you would undoubtedly accept that hostilities of this nature must be dealt with in the most immediate and proportional of ways.

Although let’s not get bogged down in proportionate responses. We know how often they can land us all in hot water. (Let’s certainly not dare to discuss the validity of the question, posed by the most popular Democratic president in recent memory, one Josiah Bartlett – ‘What is the virtue of a proportional response? They did that, so we do this. Feels like we’re docking someone’s allowance.’)

OK let’s, but not here and not now.

So Mr. President, please – what would be a red line? And should you feel that this is not such a breaking point, your continuous assertions of being Israel’s strongest ally and of standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel would begin to sound a little hollow.

Correct, Mr. President, you funded the Iron Dome system which preserves life and hangs over civilians of the south of Israel like a guardian angel. But so what? I create a barrier for you. Someone smashes through it. You want me to stand idly by, simply because I built the barrier in the first place?

On the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis – and on the eve of an election, there are those who will clamour for restraint and diplomacy. Those of us who did not live through those 13 days in October 1962 cannot begin to grasp the fear that enveloped the world as a nuclear apocalypse seemed to draw ever closer. That this nightmare scenario never became reality is down to two simple facts.

First is the knowledge that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was a doctrine that an understandably shaky Russian-Cuban axis could not afford to break. MAD states simply that full-scale use of weapons of mass destruction by two warring nations would culminate in the irrevocable and total annihilation of both the aggressor and the defender. Thus a war of this nature has no victor – simply effective reciprocal destruction based on the theory of deterrence.

Second is the secret negotiations that took place between the warring governments. The secret letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy; the phone calls between JFK and Macmillan; the back channels of negotiations between the Soviet and American cabinets all stand the test of time to prove that diplomacy – when in the hands of true diplomats – rarely fails.

But Mr. President, you know all too well that this is not a viable option. MAD is simply not a doctrine valued by terrorists – people for whom the sanctity of human life means nothing. An enemy who cares less for the lives of their own people than those of the people they are attacking cannot be reasoned with in rational terms. The threat of annihilation, the constant warnings of the dangers to come – all of these mean nothing to a people whose soul aim is destroy the infidel. And let us not forget, that means you too, Mr. President. The infidel, that is, not the enemy.

More importantly, the lack of reasoned government officials at the heart of terror in the Middle East and the absence of true partners for peace mean that diplomacy of any sort will always be stunted at best. Whilst you may be forever spurred on by the legacy of your late, great Democratic colleague, you do not have his foreign opposition to reason with.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.

It was the very same JFK who, addressing the Soviet Union, declared: “We all breathe the same air….we are all mortal.”

The events of the last 24 hours will have given Israelis cause to think deeply about their own mortality, and on the eve of this election, Mr. President, I imagine you also will be giving thought to the notion that any terrorist group or any country making up what your predecessor called the ‘axis of evil’ gaining nuclear weapons will suddenly make the world an infinitely smaller place.

Averting this scenario – indeed restoring the balance of peace and democracy to the Middle East – and to the rest of the world – involves making those decisions that no one really wants to face. It involves not forgetting the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — off the face of the Earth – because a nuclear weapon in the wrong hands will simply spread that same fear amongst all the peoples of the world.

Pennsylvania Avenue, North Dakota or Sderot. It will be a game of Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun.

I am more than happy to discuss my thoughts with you, Mr. President. Feel free to comment below.

That said, I’m awfully glad my name isn’t on the ballot in 13 days’ time.

About the Author
Robert Marks is the Director of Leeds Jewish Orthodox Youth, and a part-time Chazan in England, having returned from learning in Yeshivat Hakotel. In any spare time, he enjoys playing cricket and recording music.