The Obama administration had been silent on the Israeli border incursions. At the State Department briefing yesterday spokesman Mark Toner waded in. Silence might have been preferable:
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the killing of Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank along the borders on Lebanon and along the border with Syria by Israeli forces?
MR. TONER: Sure. Thanks for raising it. We obviously have been following events there and are aware that protestors were killed and injured in border clashes there with Israeli defense forces. Clearly, we regret these deaths and injuries. To avoid an escalation of the situation, we encourage all parties to exercise restraint and to maintain the integrity and security of border areas. Israel, like any other country, has the right to secure its borders. We also would like to commend the Palestinian security forces for their work in helping to keep order in the West Bank. As of today, there has been no other reported fatalities.
QUESTION: But do you condemn the killing of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators?
MR. TONER: Again, I thought I was pretty clear in saying that we regret these deaths and injuries and express our sympathies and condolences, but just to make clear that Israel does have the right to defend its borders.
Notice the media’s assumption that the condemnation would be directed toward Israel and not the invading Palestinians. But the haze of obfuscation, the quintessential State Department-ese, is something, isn’t it? We have to be thankful, I guess, that State understands Israel has a right to defend itself.
But it gets worse. After some more back-and-forth we get this:
QUESTION: So do you — does the State Department believe that the Syrian Government played a role in allowing the border crossing to be open and creating this situation?
MR. TONER: Well, we do think that this is an effort by the Syrian Government to play a destabilizing role. They’re — it’s clearly an effort by them to take focus off the situation that’s happening right now in Syria, and it’s a cynical use of the Palestinian cause to encourage violence along its border as it continues to repress its own people within Syria.
QUESTION: And do you see a role of Iran in the Lebanon border crossing skirmish?
MR. TONER: Well, again, these — Syria and Iran continue to play unhelpful roles and — in destabilizing the region.
QUESTION: And have you communicated with the Syrian Government through our ambassador there?
MR. TONER: I’m not — I’d have to verify. I can imagine he speaks to the Syrian authorities frequently and I could imagine he would convey these views, but I’ll confirm that.
“The situation that’s happening right now in Syria.” Who’s making it happen? Never underestimate the State Department’s ability to soft-pedal criticism of Assad. And you have to marvel at use of term “situation”-- that would be the mass murder of peaceful demonstrators. As for our ambassador, I suppose we do have to “imagine” he’s of any use there. He has been mute of late.
The State Department is usually this bad, to be honest. The striped-pants boys and gals don’t draw lines or make judgments. That might get people mad at us, not to mention kill their social-climbing. The difference in this administration is that there is no one to put a muzzle on State and speak clearly and frankly about human rights abusers, and the fallacy of moral equivalence between Israel and its neighbors. If you have a novice or uninterested president, State runs amok. And if you have a president who shares State’s historically pro-Arab bent and aversion to moral clarity, well you have the mess that we’ve come to know as “Obama’s foreign policy.”