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Democrats seek to undo political damage of the Iran Deal

Democrats seek to undo political damage of the Iran Deal

The New White House Meme About Bibi: He Doesn’t Understand

In a look at the history of the tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The New York Times several days ago started with an interesting anecdote.

For President Obama, it was a day of celebration. He had just signed the most important domestic measure of his presidency, his health care program. So when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel arrived at the White House for a hastily arranged visit, it was likely not the main thing on his mind.

To White House officials, it was a show of respect to make time for Mr. Netanyahu on that day back in March 2010. But Mr. Netanyahu did not see it that way. He felt squeezed in, not accorded the rituals of such a visit. No photographers were invited to record the moment. “That wasn’t a good way to treat me,” he complained to an American afterward.

The tortured relationship between Barack and Bibi, as they call each other, has been a story of crossed signals, misunderstandings, slights perceived and real. Burdened by mistrust, divided by ideology, the leaders of the United States and Israel talked past each other for years until the rupture over Mr. Obama’s push for a nuclear agreement with Iran led to the spectacle of Mr. Netanyahu denouncing the president’s efforts before a joint meeting of Congress.

It’s interesting because this is not at all how I remembered it. I remember that the lack of attention to the meeting was perceived as an intentional slight of Netanyahu. A quick check of the contemporaneous reporting confirmed this.

(Later when describing the meeting the article says that the situation was “made worse by exaggerated stories of shabby behavior in Israeli news media.” I don’t know that exaggerations were necessary.)

Reuters: In a sign of lingering tensions, the Obama administration withheld from Netanyahu some of the usual trappings of a White House visit. Press coverage of the Oval Office talks was barred, and the leaders made no public statements afterward.

Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post (who was, in fact, quoted by Prof. Jacobson at the time): Finally, Obama has added more poison to a U.S.-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades. Tuesday night the White House refused to allow non-official photographers record the president’s meeting with Netanyahu; no statement was issued afterward. Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length. That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to. Just like the Palestinians, European governments cannot be more friendly to an Israeli leader than the United States.

New York Magazine: It was an ominous signal when the White House didn’t provide photos or briefings after the much-anticipated meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week. After Joe Biden was blindsided by a surprise Israeli announcement of a new East Jerusalem housing project a couple of weeks earlier, the Obama administration was clearly sending a message of extreme displeasure.

BBC: But the White House had no immediate comment on their content. In a break with convention, reporters were not invited to witness the pair shake hands at the start of their discussions. It was a pointed contrast with the traditional public welcome for Israeli leaders at the White House, the BBC’s Steve Kingstone in Washington reports.

New York Time editorial a few days later: Mr. Obama was right to demand that Mr. Netanyahu repair the damage. Details of their deliberately low-key White House meeting (no photos, no press, not even a joint statement afterward) have not been revealed. We hope Israel is being pressed to at least temporarily halt building in East Jerusalem as a sign of good faith. Jerusalem’s future must be decided in negotiations.

In none of these accounts, was there any mention of the signing of Obamacare, (which did take place earlier that day.) The “low-key” approach to the meeting between the leaders was reported as a deliberate attempt by the administration to signal its displeasure with Netanyahu. I saw no indication that the administration tried to fight that impression at the time.

My best guess is that the New York Times reporters were simply writing the administration’s revisionist account of the events in 2010, without doing the necessary due diligence to ensure that the information they were given was accurate.

Still the article is mostly well-reported covering both sides. There are a few significant omissions (this and this, for example), but the article tries very hard to make the case that any tension between Obama and Netanyahu is the result not of malice, but of Netanyahu misunderstanding Obama. Perhaps the clearest expression of this came in a a description of meetings between Obama and American-Jewish leaders:

In those meetings, Mr. Obama expressed distress. “He bore his soul about how much he cares about Israel,” Mr. Foxman said. “It was painful, hurtful. ‘I care about Israel, I love Israel.”‘ Why did Mr. Netanyahu not understand?

So yes, I think we have a new meme, Obama is pro-Israel but misunderstood. The question is why the administration is so sensitive right now.

I have an idea.

First consider where the Democratic party is nearly one year before the next presidential election.

As Aleister noted recently, the Democrats have lost 12 governorship, 69 House seats, 14 Senate seats and over 900 local legislative seats in 7 years under Obama. While Obama’s personal popularity hovers just a little below 50%, this represents a widespread rebuke to his governance. Remember, his two signal achievements, Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal were unpopular. As everyone sees increasing health insurance rates and the consequences of the nuclear deal are reported, voters will have reminders of schemes that were enabled by legislative manipulation lacking popular support.

The Sun-Sentinel reported on Saturday on the significance of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting:

The region is home to an estimated 500,000 Jewish residents — sizable enough to tip the results in the biggest swing state in the country. Florida awards 29 electoral votes, more than 10 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.

Changing the outcome “doesn’t require a majority shift,” said Steven Abrams, a county commissioner who was Palm Beach County chairman for Newt Gingrich’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign. “The Jewish vote only needs to change by a percent or two or three in order to make a difference in the outcome of the state.” …

“I have three words: Iran nuclear deal,” Abrams said, referring to the Obama administration’s controversial effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. “It’s one of President Obama’s major initiatives. It’s not a small policy. And it’s a very prominent policy for Jewish voters and many Jewish Democrats and many more Jewish independents are not enthralled by it, and those are targeted voters.”

To be sure the Sun-Sentinel quoted several Democrats saying otherwise, but the nuclear deal according to polling throughout the summer is extremely unpopular.

A Quinnipiac poll in August found that voters in the crucial swing states Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida opposed the deal by a ratio of greater than 2 to 1. And every time Iran arrests an American or stops cooperating with the terms of the nuclear deal, the deal will be in the news and everyone involved in making the deal will look worse. Even many of the senators who supported the deal and defied popular opinion to block a vote on the deal made persuasive cases about the dangers of the deal.

In terms of Jewish opinion, it’s fascinating that not a single Jewish federation backed the deal. Too many of them, for sure took no position, but none supported the deal. Aside from J-Street, not a single major Jewish organization backed the deal. (The question as to whether J-Street is primarily a Jewish organization is a different question.) Even the ADL, which is now headed by a former Obama staffer, Jonathan Greenblatt, opposed the deal. If nothing else, suggests a strong consensus in the organized Jewish community that the nuclear was a bad deal that endangers Israel.

This suggests that the nuclear deal has done tremendous political damage to the Democrats. And while much of the media is portraying Netanyahu’s D.C. visit as Netanyahu’s chance to mend fences, I think it’s been Obama’s.

So even if cynical in the extreme, the meme that Obama loves Israel but his love was misunderstood by Bibi makes perfect sense. It’s a way of tidying up the past and putting the best face on a contentious relationship.

It is also a pose one would expect the president to strike if he were trying to woo back Jewish voters who are concerned about the threats to Israel presented by the nuclear deal.

Although much of the media has portrayed Netanyahu’s trip to the United States as his bid to mend relations with the administration and more generally with Democrats, there is evidence that the opposite dynamic is in play.

In addition to Obama’s “misunderstood” meme, Jennifer Rubin observed that in the wake of the nuclear deal 16 Democratic senators – 14 of whom supported the deal – are “scrambling for cover” and urging Obama to extend and strengthen the “Memorandum of Understanding” governing the terms of American security assistance to Israel in the face of the Iranian threat. Democratic Whip, Rep. Steny Hoyer, who supported the nuclear deal, has released a letter calling on the United States and its partner to ensure that Iran is held accountable for any cheating.

Polling shows that despite the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu, which Jonathan Tobin correctly characterizes as being exacerbated by Obama, bipartisan support for Israel is strong and growing. Obama and Congressional Democrats are quite aware of this.

[Photo: IsraeliPM / YouTube ]


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Has anyone produced a copy of the actual deal Iran signed?

    David Gerstman in reply to PhillyGuy. | November 12, 2015 at 10:32 am

    PhillyGuy, nothing was signed. This isn’t a formal agreement although it apparently constrains the United States from taking actions against Iran.

      Thanks David, What were the terms of the deal that the Iranian parliament approved? Were they the same as the JCPOA?

      It doesn’t constrain the US. It constrains this president, but only to whatever extent he feels like being “constrained” at any given moment. The next president will inherit it, and choose whether to feel “constrained” by it nor not.

      What I mean is that since it’s a private agreement with no legal status at all, the only constraint on the president is that if he violates it it will be gone; he doesn’t want that to happen, so he is constrained to keep it. If that prospect doesn’t bother the next president because s/he places no value on it in the first place, then s/he will not be constrained.

        True, but if future Presidents disavow the ‘agreement’ the damage will already be done. The Iranians are getting access to hundreds of billions that can be spent funding their terror surrogates and purchasing Russian weapons systems that will change the balance of power in the gulf. And of course there is the forward progress that they’ll be making on their nuclear program. But the most devastating part of this ‘deal’ is that it dismantles the sanctions programs. Given the continued rhetoric from Tehran, and the continued actions of the Kuds Force, Barack Obama and John Kerry are effectively traitors; they should be dealt with accordingly.

        PhillyGuy in reply to Milhouse. | November 13, 2015 at 12:13 am

        I think what David pointed out is that there actually is no deal. The Iranians approved a document that differs from the JCPOA that Obama and Kerry were cackling about and that the media dissected.

        They simply altered the parts they don’t agree with and approved that. In that context, you can see how bad this negotiation actually turned out. We are unilaterally assuming the Iranians will live up to an agreement they never formally agreed to. Worse yet, as you pointed out, we are implementing it.

      The deal supposedly goes further than constraining the USA. One of the rumours is that the US will aid Iran in the defense of its nuclear program.

The “spectacle” of Mr. Netanyahu denouncing the President’s efforts? The best post I’ve seen here for a long time. Thank you, Mr. Gerstman.

It is true that Netanyahu doesn’t understand Obama. He fails to appreciate that Obama hates Jews in General, and Israeli Jews in particular. Obama’s only dispute with Iran is that they are insufficiently courageous to act upon their most violent and genocidal threats.

Bitterlyclinging | November 12, 2015 at 11:50 am

The Director of White House Communications has always had a direct and open line to the David Brock lead, George Soros funded, operation.
Any White House news, talking points, or policy initiatives always go first to mediamatters to be gone over, pruned, and polished before being released to the nations news outlets. Some mediamatters productions have gone out into the general circulation, especially one of note in the WaPo, simply by having one of the papers reporters byline attached to it as his own reporting. Nothing goes out into the general circulation from the Obama Administration without mediamatters input.
Only Barack Hussein Obama himself can generate enough electoral appeal to stimulate his cadres of Melowese Richardsons to go out and cast their twelve ballots each for his election.
An Obama run for a third term, anyone? Guaranteed the Roberts Court would be hard pressed to find anything in the 22d Amendment prohibiting such a thing.

    Only Barack Hussein Obama himself can generate enough electoral appeal to stimulate his cadres of Melowese Richardsons to go out and cast their twelve ballots each for his election.
    An Obama run for a third term, anyone? Guaranteed the Roberts Court would be hard pressed to find anything in the 22d Amendment prohibiting such a thing.

    Don’t be ridiculous. There is no way in the world that he would even attempt it, and there is no way in the world that any court would go along with it. No state would allow him on the ballot, and no judge would order them to do so. Such paranoid delusions just discredit anything else you have to say, just as they did to those morons who were certain Bush wouldn’t leave office.

    There is no doubt whatsoever that 434 days, 19 hours, and 56 minutes from now Barack 0bama will no longer be president. I think it likely that he will try for a “third term”, but it will be through a proxy, not directly. What proxy? Why not Michelle? She doesn’t want to give up the good life she has now, and there’s no constitutional bar on hers being the name on the Oval Office doorplate, while Barack golfs, and Jarrett continues to do the actual presidenting just as she will have been doing it for the previous 8 years.

The Democrats will be seeking to undo the political damage of the entire Obama presidency for decades to come.

    Sorry Paul, in giving you a Thumbs Up, I missed. (tablet syndrome)

    Democrats’ alternate reality is headed for a massive correction.

    They have incorrectly convinced themselves they are godlike…