Michele Bachmann at CPAC: History through a partisan lens

at 06:02 AM ET, 02/10/2012


(Win McNamee/GETTY IMAGES)

“No president since the modern state of Israel [was formed] has failed to stand by our ally Israel — only President Obama. …The president spurned the president of Egypt when he took his first foreign trip to Cairo… In May he even said that Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders… Obama’s State Department now designates Jerusalem as an international city and in a bizarre move our State Department will not even acknowledge that Jerusalem belongs to Israel.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Feb. 9, 2012

The former GOP presidential aspirant made a slashing attack on President Obama’s foreign policy Thursday in a speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

In particular, she focused on Israel and the Middle East, where as we have written, Obama’s record is a matter of dispute. Unfortunately, some facts got lost along the way.

The Facts

First of all, she repeated some of the four-Pinocchio statements she made during the presidential campaign, such as wrongly claiming Obama had “gone around apologizing to the world” and asserting that Obama demanded that “Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders.”

The Israel line is a misrepresentation of Obama’s remarks, which did represent a significant diplomatic shift, just not as great as Bachmann claims.

Obama specifically said that the new borders would be settled through land swaps, with the 1967 borders as a negotiating starting point, and within days he clarified his statement to make that even clearer. But Bachmann just glosses over that fact.

Bachmann also makes the claim that Obama “spurned” then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his trip to Cairo in 2009 to give his speech on relations with the Islamic world. Bachmann hinges this claim on the administration’s decision to invite some members of the Muslim Brotherhood to listen to his speech.

“Spurn” suggests Obama refused to meet with Mubarak; perhaps Bachmann simply meant a snub. But here’s how The Washington Post described the Obama-Mubarak interaction at the time:

“Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, reviled by the political opposition here for his iron grasp on the media and the security forces he often deploys against them, welcomed Obama with a lavish ceremony at the Qubba Palace, where the two discussed Middle East peace efforts and Iran’s nuclear program. They later walked around the 13th-century Sultan Hassan Mosque and toured the pyramids.”

Bachmann does correctly ding Obama for naively telling Bill O’Reilly a year ago that the “Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt” and “they don’t have majority support in Egypt.” The Muslim Brotherhood was the big winner in recent legislative elections, winning nearly half of the seats. Granted, that’s not quite a majority, but Islamist parties together have a majority.

The most striking thing about Bachmann’s speech is the highly partisan gloss she put on matters of simple history. Here are two examples.

“No president since the modern state of Israel has failed to stand by our ally Israel — only President Obama.”

This is a matter of interpretation but who can forget the bitter fight that President George H.W. Bush had with Israel over settlements? Secretary of State James A. Baker III even suggested the administration was tired of Israeli foot-dragging on diplomacy when he publicly recited the White House telephone number and urged both sides to “call us when you are serious about peace.’’

Bush also complained of being “stiff-armed” by Israel and warned “we’re not going to sit here and do nothing.’’ At one point, Bush even punished Israel as it sought loan guarantees.

Many experts link the fall of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government to the spat with Bush — and it may not have helped Bush at the polls either. Bachmann knocked Obama for his criticism of Israeli settlements, but Bush was certainly critical too.

“Obama’s State Department now designates Jerusalem as an international city and in a bizarre move our State Department will not even acknowledge that Jerusalem belongs to Israel.”

Bachmann is referring here to an interesting Supreme Court case in which the family of a child born in Jerusalem wanted to have the right to have his passport say “Jerusalem, Israel.” The United States believes the question of Jerusalem’s status must be decided through negotiations and for that reason has long maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv.

But this is not just Barack Obama’s opinion, though Bachmann refers to “Obama’s State Department.” This case began in the second Bush administration, when then-President George W. Bush signed a law that included a directive on Jerusalem — but also issued a statement saying he would not abide by it because it interfered with his authority to conduct foreign policy.

In other words, Bachmann attributes to Obama a policy that began under a Republican president. (Note: In apparent preparation for the Supreme Court fight, the Obama administration also went through a silly exercise of trying to erase any references to “Jerusalem, Israel” in its archives after realizing that both it and the Bush White House had been inconsistent about referring to Jerusalem.)

The Pinocchio Test

We understand Bachmann was speaking to a partisan audience but that is no excuse for coloring history with such a partisan brush. Overall, she gets three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios




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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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