The Right-Wing Delusion That Obama Is an Israel-Hating Dove

Hawkish critics see a president who is unwilling to intervene abroad except when Israel stands to lose. These critics are blind to reality.
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Jason Reed/Reuters

Among some right-leaning hawks, there is a persistent delusion that President Obama is a non-interventionist dove who rejects American exceptionalism and hegemony, all the while harboring a unique, possibly anti-Semitic distaste for Israel. The populist manifestation of this delusion has asked us to believe that Obama "pals around with terrorists;" that he is, at bottom, a Kenyan anti-colonialist; and that he hates Israel and only likes Jews who give money to Democrats. The more intellectual but no less inaccurate strain is on display in a new Washington Free Beacon column by Matthew Continetti, also published in National Review

"Since he became president, Israel is the one country in the world in whose affairs President Obama has seemed at all interested in intervening," he writes. "It is the one country whose politics and actions Obama has had no trouble judging harshly."

This passes for sound foreign-policy analysis in some neocon circles. 

Let's look at the facts. Countries in whose affairs Obama has intervened since he became president include:

  • Afghanistan, where Obama deployed 65,200 additional troops after taking office, presiding over a three-year surge, or deliberate escalation, that would come to account for almost three-fourths of U.S. combat deaths there.
  • Libya, where Obama circumvented Congress and violated the War Powers Resolution in order to carry out his hawkish policy preference: U.S. participation in the rebellion that led to regime change in the country. Obama would subsequently preside over a significant CIA presence in Benghazi.
  • Pakistan, where Obama ordered both a "boots on the ground" raid to kill Osama bin Laden and presided over more than 300 missile strikes facilitated by unmanned drones.
  • Yemen, where Obama presided over 109 missile strikes, killing as many as 1,024 people.
  • Somalia, where Obama has ordered both special-forces operations and numerous missile strikes.
  • Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Belize, where the Obama administration has deployed commando squads from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Notice that in each of these cases, Obama didn't merely "seem interested" in intervening. He did intervene, with lethal force, at times on a massive scale for years. Those examples are more than sufficient to illustrate the irrefutable wrongheadedness of the claim that "Israel is the one country in the world in whose affairs President Obama has seemed at all interested in intervening." As for the notion that Israel is "the one country whose politics and actions Obama has had no trouble judging harshly," let's see if we can find any clear counterexamples.

As it turns out, Obama has harshly judged the Assad regime in Syria; Russia's actions in Crimea; the ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons in Iran (where Obama partnered with Israel to intervene with an apparently successful cyber attack); North Korea on various occasions; politically motivated violence in Venezuela; human-rights abuses in Cuba; China for cyberattacks, currency policy, and human-rights abuses; Rwanda for its policy toward the Democratic Republic of the Congo; among many others. Love or hate Obama's words on Israel, the notion that it is "the one country" the actions of which he harshly judges is fantasy. 

Continetti concludes his column by condemning White House efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza. "This is not the time for President Obama and John Kerry to play to type, to promote bad agreements for self-satisfaction, for political gain," he writes. "If they won’t stand behind Israel, they should at least get out of the way. And let the IDF finish the job." When Continetti expresses his desire for the Obama administration to "get out of the way," he really means that Obama should continue his perennial support for giving Israel $3.1 billion in annual aid, as well as selling it many of the weapons it is using in Gaza, sometimes in secret—but after lending all of that significant support, which won't count as "standing behind Israel," then the Obama administration should mind its own business.

Continetti and his publishers—some of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement—are perfectly within their rights to back Israel in its war in Gaza, to favor continuing the massive amounts of aid that the United States gives to that country, and to criticize Obama-administration rhetoric on the conflict there. (I certainly don't know if Obama and Kerry have it right or wrong.)

But when they advance their narrative of Israeli persecution by eliding the significant financial and military support the Obama administration has favored giving Israel; when they claim Obama is interested in intervening only in Israeli affairs; and when they say that Israel is the only country Obama criticizes, they spread obvious falsehoods, and illustrate why their foreign-policy judgment cannot be trusted. It is informed by delusions.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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