Barak Obama gave a little pep talk to George Bush this week. The Washington press corps either never heard about it or possibly thought it was too thin on substance to bother reporting. My guess is they never heard. Even so, when a presidential candidate feels driven to write a letter to the president, it’s curious that his campaign would not have done a conference call (again, it’s my assumption that they didn’t) or posted his letter to the president on the campaign web site or at least issued a press release. Maybe this is another case of the Obama campaign having what they have elsewhere referred to as “a very tightly wrapped message.”
The message this time seemed to have had two target audiences: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the Israeli press.
The Democratic candidate says:
I am deeply concerned that Israel’s security has been put at greater risk, both because of renewed threats from implacable enemies like Iran, Hizbollah, and Hamas, and because of policy choices by the United States.
Obama doesn’t spell out which particular policy choices he’s referring to and he rounds off his appeal to Bush by saying:
I close by urging you to redouble your efforts to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve success in their peace efforts; to stand up for Israel’s right of self-defense; to press the Arab states to do more to advance the peace process; and to support the Israeli-Syrian talks. All of these steps will advance the interests of the United States and the security of our ally, Israel.
Most of what he says is the kind of boilerplate that might have come straight out of Condoleezza Rice’s mouth or from Bush himself. The Bush team might have refrained from chastising friendly Middle Eastern autocratic leaders, but when Obama says, “the Arab states should support the Palestinians and prepare their own people for peace by making gestures of normalization toward Israel,” he sounds pretty disingenuous. He ignores the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and he ignores the fact that Israel continues its relentless expansion of settlements in the West Bank. He doesn’t even echo the administration’s timid rebuke in saying that settlement expansion is “unhelpful.”
The subtext here — at least I assume this was what camp Obama thought AIPAC would want to hear — was that the ceasefire with Hamas constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the threat from Qassam rockets.
If the ceasefire takes hold and gets past its bumpy start, there is a real risk that Hamas could acquire some hard sought political legitimacy. The dam that’s been holding back all those unreliable European governments who’ve never had the balls to defy Bush, might finally break. So, the message to reassure AIPAC was that just because there’s going to be a new administration in a few months, everyone can be confident that it will be just as intransigent (“Israel-friendly”) as the present one.
The one small glimmer of hope comes from Obama’s nod of approval towards the Israel-Syria negotiations. Does it count for much? Not if Obama insists on continuing to make himself a tool of AIPAC.