Obama’s opportunity, and test

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Steve Walt has a good long post on Israel’s disgraceful actions, and says that this is Obama’s opportunity re his commitment to ending the I/P conflict, a perfect opportunity to condemn Israel’s actions and muscle Israel on two states. Along the way he says the Zionist dream has gone wrong, we should be talking sanction, and where oh where are the liberal Zionists who say they could just scream:

President Obama likes to talk a lot about our wonderful American values, and his shiny new National Security Strategy says "we must always seek to uphold these values not just when it is easy, but when it is hard."  The same document also talks about a "rule-based international order," and says "America’s commitment to the rule of law is fundamental to our efforts to build an international order that is capable of confronting the emerging challenges of the 21st century."

Well if that is true, here is an excellent opportunity for Obama to prove that he means what he says. Attacking a humanitarian aid mission certainly isn’t consistent with American values — even when that aid mission is engaged in the provocative act of challenging a blockade — and doing so in international waters is a direct violation of international law. Of course, it would be politically difficult for the administration to take a principled stand with midterm elections looming, but our values and commitment to the rule of law aren’t worth much if a president will sacrifice them just to win votes.

More importantly, this latest act of misguided belligerence poses a broader threat to U.S. national interests. … [U]nless the Obama administration demonstrates just how angry and appalled it is by this foolish act, and unless the U.S. reaction has some real teeth in it, other states will rightly see Washington as irretrievably weak and hypocritical. And Obama’s Cairo speech — which was entitled "A New Beginning" — will be guaranteed a prominent place in the Hall of Fame of Empty Rhetoric…

How are we supposed to think about a country that has nuclear weapons, a superb army, an increasingly prosperous economy, and great technological sophistication, yet keeps more than a million people under siege in Gaza, denies political rights to millions more on the West Bank, is committed to expanding settlements there, and whose leaders feel little compunction about using deadly force not merely against well-armed enemies, but also against innocent civilians and international peace activists, while at the same time portraying itself as a blameless victim?   Something has gone terribly wrong with the Zionist dream.

…[T]his incident is a litmus test for the "pro-Israel" community here in the United States.  One of the reasons why Israel keeps doing foolish things like this is that it has been insulated from the consequences of these actions by its hard-line sympathizers in the United States.  AIPAC spokesmen are already bombarding journalists and pundits with emails spinning the assault, and we can confidently expect other apologists to prepare op-eds and blog posts defending Israel’s conduct as a principled act of "self-defense." And if the Obama administration tries to proceed in any of the ways I’ve just suggested, it can count on fierce opposition from the most influential organizations in the Israel lobby. 

In this context Peter Beinart’s recent article in the New York Review of Books is even more salient, especially his question:

The heads of AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference should ask themselves what Israel’s leaders would have to do or say to make them scream "no."  … If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?"

Over the next few days, keep an eye on how politicians and pundits line up on this issue. Which of them thinks that Israel "crossed a line" and deserves criticism — and maybe even sanction — and which of them thinks that what it did was entirely appropriate?

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