I will be perfectly honest — I sat with folded hands in recent weeks as I watched some of my fellow progressives in south Florida take to social media to attack President Obama’s Middle East policies and cheer Benjamin Netanyahu on to victory in Israel’s recent General Election. Some of these same progressives have attacked the President and Secretary of State’s attempts to use diplomacy to bring about a peaceful settlement to the nuclear dispute with Iran, while parroting the arguments made by Marco Rubio and others on numerous issues of foreign policy. I understand some of the anxiety about Iran, but I have continuously advocated engagement with Iran as an important buffer against continued American tilting toward the despotic Arab dictatorships in the Persian Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
The Obama/Kerry negotiations with Iran opens an important chapter in triangular diplomacy that should be embraced by progressives. But for some the perceptions of right-wing Israeli politicians creates a “reality” more important than what is actually on the surface – a deal that potentially improve Israel’s security AND re-position the United States properly in a region where we have made a mess with our short-sighted policies. Security for Israel is always of paramount importance to American diplomats and to claim President Obama has anything but this in mind as his administration negotiated with Iran was ridiculous. And as our interests in the Middle East evolve dealing with Iran I am confident will prove to be one of this administration’s lasting positive legacies.
The neo-conservative doctrine advocated most forcefully in 2015 by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, has led this nation into an endless state of war is actually a liberal idea that originated on the Democratic side of the aisle in the office of the late Senator Scoop Jackson (D-Washington) and eventually was adopted by elements of the Republican Party. Historically, Republicans had been less willing to use force than Democrats but that radically changed during the administration of George W. Bush. The neo-con takeover of GOP foreign policy realigned where the major parties stood on foreign affairs and during the Obama Administration, persistent criticisms of the President’s policy have come from the neo-conservatives. We have also seen persistent critiques from Democrats – I personally have felt the President has been naive in how he’s handled parts of the global picture including Putin’s Russia which I have long felt was a major threat to American and western interests. The neoconservative critique of the President seems to be particularly appealing to some Democrats in south Florida, whether it be on the issue of Cuba, Iran or the Middle East/Persian Gulf region.
The support for Netanyahu coupled with the critiques of Obama leave a particularly sour taste in my mouth. Why did some Democrats feel the right-wing government in Israel that has undermined the traditions of progressiveness and secularism in Israel, which has been historically a more liberal and open country than the United States is worthy of support? Why do these same people simply accept the Likud narrative about President Obama?
I understand the disappointment in President Obama’s foreign policy which has been at times very naive and willing to sacrifice American interests for idealistic goals. This is similar to the idealism of the Bush years which promoted the spread of democracy in the Middle East even though in retrospect it was clearly in American interests to keep the most despotic and right-wing regimes in power if they were secular (like Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria) or not associated with major terrorist organizations (Iraq and Egypt). Some people like myself warned before the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Iranian influence would grow in the region. This happened, and instead of becoming partners with Iran given the reality, saber-rattling towards Tehran intensified despite the truth that the US had empowered pro-Iranian regimes in both Baghdad and Kabul by use of force. The pivot towards Iran is badly needed in American foreign policy and in time it will serve to add layers of security for Israel that they do not currently enjoy.
The idea of liberals cheering on a conservative who has disrespected our President so openly has opened wounds that are indescribable. Even the feeling that the opposition might be weak is not an excuse – Would progressive Americans back the mealy-mouthed P.M. David Cameron in the UK General Election even though many think Ed Miliband is completely ineffectual and Nick Clegg is a sellout? I find it unlikely, though Cameron has not been confrontational the way Netanyahu has been by any standard imaginable. But the idea of progressives openly backing a Tory candidate for British PM is almost unimaginable.
Foreign policy and the security of Israel are important – no doubt. Israel’s security and sanctity can never be sacrificed and won’t be by any American President in either major party. But my advice to some Democrats in South Florida who may think this administration has sold out Israel’s interests because Netanyahu and his allied American interests (mostly hawks and religious conservatives) claims so, and thus are willing to adapt a knee-jerk right-wing view of things is simple – if you feel as strongly as appear to, don’t watch the Democratic Primaries next year, watch the Republican ones .. and you probably will find your candidate close to home in none other than Florida’s one-term Junior Senator, Marco Rubio.