The always astute Walter Russell Mead has a lengthy and penetrating analysis of President Obama’s recent Mideast peace efforts. Although crediting Obama with being thoughtful, well-intentioned and sensible in his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mead judges him “as the least competent manager of America’s Middle East diplomatic portfolio in a very long time.” [...]
In particular, he cites Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “deadly, devastating speech to Congress in which he eviscerated President Obama’s foreign policy to prolonged and repeated standing ovations by members of both parties,” which “may have been the single most stunning and effective public rebuke to an American President a foreign leader has ever delivered.”
The whole thing is worth reading, but this passage struck us as especially important:
As the stunning and overwhelming response to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Congress showed, Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth. Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.
It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted.
Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t “get” Israel also don’t “get” America and don’t “get” God. Obama’s political isolation on this issue, and the haste with which liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi left the embattled President to take the heat alone, testify to the pervasive sense in American politics that Israel is an American value.
This reminded us of something we wrote last summer:
Today an increasing number of Americans doubt whether Obama is “American enough.” Like blacks in 2007, they see him as an outsider, as lacking a certain instinctive or emotional attachment to the country–an attachment that, whatever their faults, no one doubts Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have.
If Mead is correct in his description of Israel’s role in the American psyche–and we think he is–then Obama’s detachment from the Jewish state is of a piece with this evident detachment from his own country.
To be sure, not all Americans feel this kindredness with Israel. Some see it as just another country, the way Obama seems to; others, like Helen Thomas, seethe with a hatred for the Jewish state that boils over into outright anti-Semitism. In between are people who, while not anti-Semitic and perhaps not quite antipathetic to Israel per se, are jealous of it for its claim on American affection. That is the emotion behind the oft-heard claim of “dual loyalty”–a charge that is absurd in light of Mead’s insight “that Israel is an American value.”
Disesteem for Israel is rare in America, but it is concentrated in certain cultural pockets, the most notable of which is the academic left. Some of our friends on the right imagine that Obama is a secret jihadist or a hater like his erstwhile pastor. To put it charitably, we think this overexplains matters. The trouble with the president is simply that he spent too much time in the faculty lounge.