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Should We Expect the President to Love Other Nations?

Jeffrey Goldberg gives [1] Obama some questionable advice ahead of his trip to Israel:

To the Israelis, Obama needs to say two things at once. The first is simple: He needs to tell Israelis that he loves them.

I expect that Obama will include the usual boilerplate about how important he believes the relationship with Israel to be, as he has so many times before, and Israelis that dislike and distrust him for whatever reason will continue to do so. If Obama did as Goldberg advised, this wouldn’t impress any of the skeptics, and it would probably be somewhat embarrassing to Israelis that view him favorably. Aaron David Miller has repeatedly argued [2] that this sort of emotional connection isn’t how Obama relates to Israel personally (“Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel”), and I think that’s mostly right. The more important point is that the president shouldn’t be expected to feel a certain way about another country in order to support the policies that he already supports, and he shouldn’t be faulted if he doesn’t express these feelings in an overt or fawning manner. Besides, there are few things more off-putting than faking an intensity of feeling that one doesn’t genuinely have (see Romney, Mitt). Do we really expect our presidents to love other nations? Isn’t this exactly the sort of attachment that Washington warned against?

Frankly, if there’s one thing that the U.S.-Israel relationship doesn’t need, it is yet another declaration of love. There have been at least twenty years of these statements, and they have had few effects other than identifying the U.S. with Israeli policies in the eyes of most of the world. There’s nothing wrong with showing appreciation for normal, constructive relations with another government, and there’s nothing wrong with praising the people of the country that the president happens to be visiting. When American politicians constantly gush about how much they adore Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship (which is only slightly exaggerated in the recent SNL sketch), they act as enablers of reckless behavior and policies that will in the long-term be harmful to Israel. They also make themselves look ridiculous, but that’s a topic for another post.

I’m fairly confident that Obama isn’t going to cause himself a needless headache by revisiting the issue of settlements in a big way during his trip. He mishandled the issue in his first year, and it caused him a lot of grief there and in Washington without changing anything for the better. It would be surprising if he decided to do the same thing at the start of his second term.

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13 Comments To "Should We Expect the President to Love Other Nations?"

#1 Comment By Noah172 On February 12, 2013 @ 10:47 am

Jeffrey Goldberg

Stop right there. Nothing more needs to be said. Why does anyone take this snake seriously. He left the US to serve in the Israeli military because of disgust with gentile America, and then left Israel to pursue fame and fortune in that same gentile America.

As usual in foreign policy matters, the Father of Our Country (not Jeffrey Goldberg’s country) put it best:

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

#2 Comment By Dan On February 12, 2013 @ 11:33 am

The last two times Obama tried to take on Bibi he got smacked around pretty hard. I’m guessing he’s learned his lesson and will let Bibi continue to prove James Baker’s “Greater Israel is a fantasy” speech wrong.

#3 Comment By legion On February 12, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

Jeffrey Goldberg gives Obama some questionable advice

Really, you could have just stopped here.

#4 Comment By KXB On February 12, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

Jimmy the Greek had a better track record than Goldberg.

#5 Comment By collin On February 12, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

How is Obama to show his support for Israel. $3B of free weapons is not enough? Now, Obama has to send flowers and wine when the settlement constructions are completed!

I would suggest Obama shows the SNL Hagel hearings gag as an indictation where the US population opinion is going. Then he can send all the Pat Buchanan articles on the historical political analysis of California and tell Bibi that if the settlements continue, that is going to be what will happen to Israeli politics.

#6 Comment By gorge raisin On February 12, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

If Obama tells the Israelis that he loves them I’m gonna throw up.

#7 Comment By Misprision of treason On February 12, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States and having knowledge of the commission of any treason against them, conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President or to some judge of the United States, or to the governor or to some judge or justice of a particular State, is guilty of misprision of treason and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned

18 USC § 2382

#8 Comment By abe On February 12, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

Imagine the sort of pressure Obama is under from those within his own party who are emotionally attached to that country. Would certain democrats have supported Chuck Hagel if Obama wasn’t just abiding Netanyahu but actually took him on?

You have on one side naked, full throttled and unapologetic ethnic nationalism and on the other a tepid rationalist consideration that so often can’t go beyond gassy remarks concerning “what’s in Israel’s true interest.” Who would you bet your money on would win?

For instance, Jeffrey Goldberg HATES HATES HATES Stephen Walt. Time and time again Goldberg slanders Stephen Walt out of the blue, because Walt offended Goldberg with “The Israel Lobby,” and Goldberg isn’t afraid to hold back in retaliation, whereas those who would criticize Goldberg are forever holding back.

#9 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 12, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

“Time and time again Goldberg slanders Stephen Walt out of the blue, because Walt offended Goldberg with “The Israel Lobby,” and Goldberg isn’t afraid to hold back in retaliation, whereas those who would criticize Goldberg are forever holding back.”

If by “holding back” you mean that his critics don’t gratuitously lie about him and accuse him of the basest motives for what he writes, then I guess we do.

#10 Comment By abe On February 12, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

I meant he’s still treated with some respect despite his transparent odious campaign against Stephen Walt. Why is Goldberg so emboldened? Because the only people willing to him a scumbag are anonymous blog readers.

#11 Comment By abe On February 12, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

willing to call him a scumbag

#12 Comment By Aaron Gross On February 12, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

Uh, Daniel, you don’t think maybe you’re taking that sentence just a bit too literally? Goldberg explains what he meant: “telling an isolated and widely despised people that he was on their side.”

Maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day is approaching, but you seem to be focusing on feelings here. Allies in the past didn’t necessary feel love for each other, but their heads of state did sometimes marry each other, or if not that then at least greet each other warmly. Goldberg is recommending the democratic equivalent.

Your point about “enabling” is exactly the point Goldberg makes in his column: that Obama should stop being Israel’s enabler. According to Goldberg, Obama should say, “in the bluntest manner feasible,” that “the West Bank settlement project is imperiling Israel’s future as a democratic Jewish state.”

About your final comment: I’m glad you acknowledge Obama’s mishandling of the settlement freeze. Others pointed that out from the very start. But that mishandling doesn’t mean he should avoid the issue entirely. It just means he should oppose the settlement project intelligently, not incredibly stupidly like he did it the first time.

#13 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 13, 2013 @ 7:12 am

“Uh, Daniel, you don’t think maybe you’re taking that sentence just a bit too literally?”

No, not really. If that isn’t the word he wanted to use, he should have come up with some other way to say it. As I recall, it was Goldberg who got Obama to [3] just such a declaration of love when he was first running. So this has come up in his commentary on Obama and Israel before. Obama has told Israelis that he’s on their side countless times, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Apparently, he is required to say it with *feeling*.

I think I’ve acknowledged the mishandling of the settlement issue at least once or twice before. There’s no denying it.