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Right Turn
Posted at 05:30 PM ET, 12/06/2011

Bipartisan disdain for Obama’s Middle East policy

It is getting harder and harder for Democrats to defend the Obama administration on its conduct of foreign policy, regardless of the issue.

You’d think it would be easy for the administration to dump Ambassador Howard Gutman after his widely criticized comments on anti-Semitism. The administration’s decision to double down on him is creating consternation in liberal ranks.

The heavily-Democratic American Jewish Committee expressed its outrage. Executive director David Harris emailed the Weekly Standard this statement:

As we informed Ambassador Gutman, we were appalled by his comments. Muslim anti-Semitism, he should know, has a long and painful history of its own that has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. Moreover, he has inverted cause and effect -- Muslim anti-Semitism is a reason for the conflict with Israel, not a result. And it was this intolerance that also triggered the expulsion, at times accompanied by deadly violence, of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries, including my wife and her entire family, just as Christian minorities today in Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere face growing persecution, attacks, and pressure to leave.

No mention was made of the State Department’s “full confidence” in Gutman. That is not “appalling” enough to merit comment I suppose.

Meanwhile, another Democrat on Capitol Hill has joined the chorus of criticism. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) told Right Turn this afternoon:

Anti-Semitism is inexcusable under any circumstances. Those who use the existence of the Jewish State of Israel or the ongoing deadlock in Israeli-Palestinians peace negotiations as an excuse to hate Jews are nothing more than anti-Semitic bigots. I strongly disagree with Ambassador Gutman’s analysis on the different reasons for anti-Semitism and I am pleased that he has expressed regret for his remarks.

Again, upset, but no direct indictment of the Obama administration.

On background Democrats are more candid. A Democratic Hill staffer was fuming. He emailed me:

The State Department continues to show a lack of understanding of where Congress and the American People are on these sort of issues. When it comes to anti-Semitism and the Middle East policy coming out of the State Department, even Obama’s strongest supporters have to hold their nose when dealing with State. They continually are the weakest link in the Obama Administration when it comes to support for the US-Israel relationship.

Well, the State Department has rarely been the bastion of pro-Israel policy in American history, but this attempts to sidestep the troublesome spot in which pro-Israel Democrats have been placed (again). President Obama, of course, is responsible for his own foreign policy and the decision to keep Gutman is ultimately his. How long can Democrats afford to pull their punches? At some point they are going to take a beating in the media and with their constituents if they try to shelter the president on this.

Tensions are also high between Congress and the White House on Iran sanctions. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have sent a letter to members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees objecting to the administration’s attempts to weaken an Iran sanctions bill that they jointly crafted. Right Turn received a copy of the letter, which reads:

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 to adopt the Menendez/Kirk Central Ban of Iran sanctions amendment to the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As the authors of this important amendment, we urge you to include the provision as passed by the Senate in the final Conference Report.
The Menendez/Kirk amendment is tough, responsible and, most importantly, bipartisan. It provides the Administration another key tool to curb Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons while keeping oil markets stable and encouraging other nations to reduce Iranian oil purchases. With the support of every single United States Senator, it needs no alterations.
We understand the Administration has submitted to your Committee a list of proposed changes to the Menendez/Kirk amendment - both “technical fixes” and “alterations.” We would note that proposals to delay sanctions implementation and water down the amendment’s penalties are not “technical” in nature and should be rejected.
As the recent IAEA report reminded us, time is not on our side. We must impose crippling sanctions on Iran before the regime acquires nuclear weapons. Therefore, we urge you to adopt the Menendez/Kirk amendment as passed by the Senate in the final NDAA Conference Report.

What will the conferees do? It’s once again a nearly inexplicable move by the administration that suggests, as does its retention of Gutman, that its foreign policy has no rhyme or reason and/or is undermining our and Israel’s security. The Hill reports that Kirk has had enough:

“Not one senator stood with the administration” last week when the upper chamber unanimously approved a plan to sanction firms and other governments that do business with the Central Bank of Iran, Kirk said. He said the 100-0 vote in the Senate on that language “sent a message” that senators feel the administration is not moving aggressively enough with Iran.

Again, this puts Democrats on the spot. Will they cave and agree with the administration’s efforts to soften sanctions? Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin observes that it’s getting dicey for members like Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.):

In a statement e-mailed to The Cable, Berman indicated that the Kirk-Menendez language might not be the final say in how Congress moves to sanction Iran.
“As the original author of the House amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, I am pleased that the Senate has taken action on this urgent issue. In the near future, the House will pass the Iran Threat Reduction Act, which includes my amendment,” Berman said. “Meanwhile, I will be working with my colleagues in the House, the Senate, and the Administration in an effort to ensure that the final language of the Kirk-Menendez amendment is as tough and sensible as possible and provides a time-frame that corresponds to the rapid progress Iran is making toward developing nuclear weapons.”
One GOP congressional aide told The Cable that if Berman seems to be working to weaken the Senate language, Republicans are ready to use that as fodder against him in his upcoming primary fight against Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). The two lawmakers’ districts were combined due to redistricting, and they now have to run against each other next year.

Come to think of it, Berman hasn’t spoken out on Gutman either. Right Turn emailed him for comment and will report back anything received.

Meanwhile, these sorts of moves by the administration leave the president open to bipartisan criticism and put Democrats on the ballot in 2012 in a tough spot. As to the latter, their opponents will argue that they rubber stamps for an administration whose Middle East policy has gone off the rails. One thing is certain: Carrying water for the administration has certainly gotten harder this week.

By  |  05:30 PM ET, 12/06/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, Israel, President Obama

 
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