Tidbits From Israel
By Ron Jager
In recent weeks, we have witnessed Egypt coming apart at the seams, on the brink of civil war between the Muslim Brotherhood (cutely called by the White House “the brothers”) ousted in a military coup and the newly installed secular interim government. In Syria, civil war has taken the lives of over 100,000 people, with the Assad regime getting massive military support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah ground forces. Let’s not forget that Iran has vowed to continue to enrich uranium, as it gets closer to amassing enough to build a nuclear weapon. Let’s also not forget that the Putin government in Russia continues to ignore America’s standing request to extradite the NSA spy Edward Snowden, as did China, as did Hong Kong, as did Bolivia and other nations who have offered asylum to Snowden. An objective observer might wonder, where is the White House . . . ?
Last week, while Egypt was being torn apart, President Obama was visiting South Africa, sitting in a hospital waiting room with family members of Nelson Mandela. Obama didn’t actually visit Mandela, who had been put on life support weeks ago, so it seems odd that he didn’t pack up and get back to the White House, pronto. Only Secretary of State Kerry could outdo President Obama in being at the wrong place at the wrong time. One would assume that America’s foreign-policy chief would be up to his neck dealing with these crises. But Kerry wasn’t paying much attention. On Wednesday, when all hell broke loose in Egypt, Kerry was seen on his private yacht, the Isabel, in Nantucket. Despite initial denials, his office confirmed that he had indeed been yachting that day.
Evidently, Kerry needed some R&R after wasting his time in the Middle East—not in Egypt, Syria, or Iran, but commuting between Ramallah and Jerusalem in an attempt to craft an agreement that would finally bring the Palestinian Arabs back to the Middle East peace talks. In case you have forgotten, they have been boycotting peace negotiations for the last four and a half years. Nothing new here. But at the end of his fifth such effort since taking office in February, Kerry left the region empty-handed again, having failed to convince the Palestinian Arabs to talk, yet claiming that he is getting closer to success.
The humiliating nature of these repeated failures brings to mind questions of adequacy and just how dense and clueless the Obama administration can be. Subjecting American foreign policy to this kind of mediocrity and strategic ignorance, while at the same time conspicuously ignoring other more urgent problems, Egypt being only the latest, says a lot about what matters to President Obama.
It seems as if President Obama, by allowing Kerry to waste his time in futile negotiations, doesn’t really care how America is perceived around the world. Rather than focus on genuine crises on which American policy can have an impact, Kerry is obsessively repeating the mistakes made by his predecessors. President Obama came into office claiming that he would raise America’s prestige abroad, yet as one observes the past two weeks and the sheer volume of foreign-policy disasters going on all at the same time, it seems that the stench of incompetence hovers over the White House.
President Obama is acting as if allowing Kerry to waste his time in this manner has no impact on how America is perceived around the world. And all this also raises questions about the Obama administration’s ability to prioritize regional conflicts. In case the White House hasn’t noticed, the Palestinian Arabs are no longer of interest to the Arab world, who are up to their necks in chaos and civil wars; they are at most a sideshow compared to the genocide going on just north of Israel. In addition, spending time and effort in preventing apartment construction in Jerusalem only reinforces the feeling here in the Middle East that the Obama administration is out of its depth.
The conclusion is that it won’t stop here, but could escalate into war between Egypt and Israel. Egypt is a failed state and has a failed economy. Only continued foreign subsidy at a rate of billions of dollars a year can prevent Egypt from imploding and sliding into civil war. So when all else fails, blame the Jews and blame Israel. Nothing will better galvanize the Egyptian public to become united than anti-Semitic rhetoric and sentiment directed at the Zionist state.
Finally, President Obama needs to understand that security around the world, and especially in the Middle East, cannot successfully be managed without Russian and Chinese cooperation. Today, neither of these superpowers holds high regard for Obama, who is perceived as all talk and no action, a novice who always stands down from protecting American interests. If Obama wants to gain the respect of Russia and China—or, for that matter, the respect of Arab leaders—he must do something that he has refrained from doing since being elected almost five years ago: Obama must become a credible threat in the eyes of world leaders.
As Eli Wallach uttered in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” The time has arrived for Obama to grow up and take charge. v
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Today, Ron is a strategic advisor at the Office of the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.ronjager.com.