Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a statement that Obama made in response to the Israeli decision to create the E-1 settlement:

In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”

The report of this statement prompted Rand Paul to say, “I would say that’s an arrogant and presumptuous point of view, and really does not further any kind of progress, to make those kind of points.” One wonders what sort of “progress” could be achieved by acquiescing to Israeli actions that are obviously detrimental to any negotiated settlement, but forget about that for a moment. Is there merit in the first part of what Paul says? I suppose it is somewhat presumptuous to claim to have a better idea of what another state’s interests are than the government of that state, but the truth is that people outside another country can sometimes have a better appreciation for what is in the best interests of a state than the people in its government. One of the most common errors that hawks make is to assume that another country’s true interests are best served by the policy preferences of that country’s hard-line and nationalist politicians. American hawks treat disagreement with these hard-line policy preferences as proof of hostility to that country. Of course, that ignores the views of everyone in the country not aligned with the current government, and it assumes that U.S. policy ought to copy or echo whatever the hard-liners in the other country prefer.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, several allied governments strongly resisted the Bush administration’s push for war in part because they perceived correctly that invading and occupying Iraq would be harmful to the U.S. These allies were undoubtedly looking out for their own interests at the same time, but Washington erred by ignoring the good advice of allies that were trying to prevent the U.S. from making a terrible blunder. It is easy to dismiss constructive criticism from others as proof of their disloyalty to “us,” but the one who will chide and argue with you is often a better friend than the one that allows you to act self-destructively while saying nothing. The most likely alternative to criticizing allies and clients when we believe they are in error is to continue enabling the other state’s government to behave recklessly and dangerously, and that will often result in disaster for the ally or client.