Benjamin Netanyahu is back in town, and he could make Barack Obama’s life easier if he would just go away. The president is trying to concentrate on the frilly Valentine he’s taking to the Muslims next month in Cairo, the latest stop on his global blush, bow low and apologize tour.
Mr. Netanyahu is an unwelcome reminder of the reality lying in ambush out there, where things go bump not in the night but in midafternoon, and all manner of evil lurks in the hearts of barbarians. Mr. Obama thinks a good shoeshine, a working teleprompter and a pretty speech can transform that ugly reality into something nice that maybe even smells good. Mr. Netanyahu and his countrymen have to deal with an ugly reality that stinks. They understand what Dr. Johnson was talking about with his celebrated observation that “the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.” Survival in the Middle East is a full-time job.
The Israeli prime minister, who grew up in America and has been here before as prime minister, arrived in an Obamaworld he couldn’t recognize and where he is not particularly welcome. The War on Terror is over, replaced by an “enhanced” unpleasantness in Afghanistan that we’re supposed to call an “overseas contingency operation,” where terrorists are “improvisational ideologues” and once captured can be politely called “custodial informants.” We lost the War on Drugs, and the new drug czar suggests that we not call it a war. “Dialogue with controlled-substance entrepreneurs” would improve the self-esteem of the drug dealers. We don’t do deficits any more; they’re “inverted surpluses.” No one will be killed in Mr. Obama’s “augmented” war in Afghanistan; the dead will merely be “reassigned to operations in a command in another realm.”
Once explained to Mr. Netanyahu, the new enhanced road map to a viable settlement in the Middle East through the peace process (are any cliches missing?) was plain and clear. Concessions are for the Jews to make, as he learned Monday at the White House, and rewards are for the Palestinians.
Mr. Obama and his policymakers, not all of whom assign Israeli security a particularly high priority, are determined to impose the Palestinian version of a two-state solution on Israel and freeze expansion of Jewish settlements on territory occupied since the Arabian knights lost the Six-Day War. The Jewish settlers get in the way of the Palestinian gunners firing rockets into villages in northern Israel. Mr. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is more interested in what the West - i.e., Israel and the United States - can do to deter Iran, which is furiously developing nuclear weapons with which to rearrange the topography and demography of Israel. Mr. Obama thinks milk toast and weak tea, which he calls “diplomacy,” can make a Christian (so to speak) out of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This in turn will invite normal diplomatic ties between Israel and its Muslim neighbors. Mr. Netanyahu recognizes this as more of Mr. Obama’s pie in the sky, which is indigestible when served with milk toast and weak tea.
“There is a sense of urgency on our side,” Uzi Arad, the prime minister’s adviser on national security, told correspondents on the eve of Monday’s session at the White House. But the only urgency apparent in Washington is for more talk.
Authentic peace in the Middle East, which has never known authentic peace, will continue to be elusive well into the outer eons. President Obama thinks endless negotiations on agreements the Palestinians won’t keep will encourage the Arab states to join the “pressure,” such as it may be, to persuade Iran to straighten up and fly right. The Israelis see getting tough with Iran as the way to exploit Arab fears of Iran as a rogue power, mistrusted by everyone and emboldened by its nuclear weapons.
Mr. Obama may be sincere in his confidence that his soaring oratory can make rough places smooth and hard places plain, even persuade Arabs to like Jews, but talk is cheaper in the Middle East than anywhere else on the planet.
In his conversations with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Obama, comfortable in his bubble of mindless worship and wonder, with nothing to lose but his fading reputation as a messiah, is talking to someone with everything to lose. Israel is surrounded by mortal enemies, heavily armed and getting more so. Israel’s enemies can continue to lose the wars they start, and live to rearm and make war again. Israel loses once, and it’s all over. Like the prospect of the rope, this, too, concentrates the rational mind wonderfully well.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.