The 44th US President is surrounded by high walls
and peers out at the world through pretty screens.
In November 2014, “someone” in the Obama Administration chose to belittle the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The choice of expletives aside, the call was not just revealing about how much Barack Obama and his administration disliked Netanyahu, it reflected a smugness and cluelessness of the US Administration about living in the dangerous Middle East.
America at Peace
America has been blessed with peace on its shores. While the country has waged many wars over the past 70 years, the actual fighting was on foreign lands including: Europe; Iraq; Vietnam; Korea; Japan; Libya; Kosovo; Somalia and many other countries. Other than two attacks on American soil, the US has been spared fear and death at home.
- Points in Time: There were only two days that the USA had foreigners attacking the country: December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001. America has not faced a prolonged attack on its shores for centuries.
- Troops Trespassing: Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks were done via airplanes. Foreign warriors did not walk the streets of America.
- Families Threatened: The two attacks were on military installations (the navy fleet and the Pentagon) and financial center (World Trade Center). America did not face an enemy that threatened homes and families.
- Existential Threat: America is a superpower, armed with firepower that can destroy the world many times over. It has not engaged with an enemy that could threaten the very existence of the country.
- Peaceful borders: America is lucky to have only two borders despite its enormous size. Both neighbors are friends, allies and trading partners of the USA.
None of these facts are true for Israel. Israel is surrounded by several enemy countries. These neighbors have stated their intention to wipe Israel off of the map and have repeatedly gone to war and fired directly into civilian population centers over and over again through the decades of Israel’s existence.
Lawyers as Commanders-in-Chief
America’s peaceful existence has enabled it to calmly elect presidents with no military experience over the last several decades. When America fought its great wars such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II, the American people elected the respective generals to become the Commanders-in-Chief in the following years (George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower).
- Never in battle. The recent US presidents and vice presidents (particularly the Democratic ones) including Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Bill Clinton had no military experience at all. George HW Bush fought in World War II, while George W Bush served in the National Guard but was never in battle. Al Gore served as a military reporter for a short stint. Other than HW Bush, these men never faced true fear or saw friends die in battle. They led the world’s largest military machine as Commanders-in-Chief without appreciating the danger and fear of deadly combat.
- No draft. America no longer has a draft so every person that serves in the military does so as a volunteer. Such a system can mask the decision of deploying troops for a military commander. Each soldier is a volunteer and trained professional. This “professional army” is very different than “citizen armies” that pull people out of the workforce and touch every corner of a country. As such, American presidents fight wars without the same direct economic and emotional impact that face other countries.
- The infrequent visitor. President George W Bush launched the Iraq War in response to the attacks on 9/11 and President Obama invested heavily in the War in Afghanistan. Each president made only four short trips to the regions despite deploying well over half a million troops in each war over many years.
In Israel, every person must serve in the armed forces. Every family deals with disruption to its business and annual routine. Each citizen faces the risks on a very personal level – physical, financial and emotional. Every family in Israel knows someone who died in one of its wars.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu served in the elite unit Sayeret Matkal, and took part in a number of military operations, including the 1972 rescue of a hijacked Sebana passenger jet. His brother died leading a raid to free Israeli civilians hijacked in Entebee in 1976. Other members of the current Israeli ruling coalition include Naftali Bennett who served in two elite units including Sayeret Matkal and Maglan. Yair Lapid served as a First Sergeant in the IDF.
Israeli Prime Ministers do not just visit the frontlines in each battle they fight- they can see the missiles standing next to their families from their bedroom windows.
The Obama Detachment
The detachment from reality regarding the fear and adrenaline of battle for an American president is compounded in the case of Obama, who is generally acknowledged to be a “detached” individual.
- Constitutional law. President Obama has referred to himself as a professor of constitutional law. His leadership style exemplified this attitude whether on domestic matters such as Immigration Reform or the Targeted Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki when he delved into the nuances of particular laws in large legal briefs. Despite being the Commander-in-Chief, he is most comfortable as a lawyer surrounded by other lawyers sitting around a conference room table; he is clearly not a military leader surrounded by armed forces in the field of battle.
- Community organizer. Obama’s background as a community organizer focused on ways to elevate a particular community within the 330 million-population of the United States. He has no background or experience in protecting the entire country, which every leader in Israel has experienced for several years.
- Competitive sports. Obama is very proud of his athletic skills and people have noted his deep competitive streak. However, talking dirt about dunks is divorced from the reality of deploying troops in your backyard against enemies sworn to your destruction while the world admonishes your right to defend itself. Beating an opponent on the court has little to do with protecting ones citizens.
- Battle by Remote. The best summary of the Obama detachment is in his moniker “The Drone President”. More than any president in US history, Obama has used drones to assassinate his enemies. The pilots of the drones may be hundreds or thousands of miles from the battle scene. Obama’s army drops the missiles and departs, never personally entering the zone of combat and therefore never exposed to danger.
- The Ultimate belief in Self. Despite never being in battle, (other than some competitive basketball games), and relying more and more on mechanized drones in the battlefield, Obama has a tremendous sense of his centrality to the war machine. After US marines assassinated Osama bin Laden while Obama sat and watched on a screen, his speech to the nation the next day was littered with an active “I” to describe the mission.
- “I directed Leon Panetta”
- “I was briefed”
- “I met repeatedly”
- “I determined”
- “I, as Commander-in-Chief”
Obama and his administration sit in their comfy offices in their calm country thousands of miles from confrontation and peer into the battle through TV screens and simulators. They watch their orders for assassinations and wars, with laptops and coffee. Their added security blanket of being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, adds yet another shield from any serious global charge. As Mel Brooks once aptly said “It’s good to be the King.”
Remarkably, Obama, the cloistered captain, touts his talents and has the temerity to taunt his unloved ally, the besieged Bibi Netanyahu.
The Israeli Prime Minister, the “chick*hit” that the Obama administration referred to, never had the ability to be so smug. His backyard contains a museum memorializing millions of relatives slaughtered for the crime of being a Jew just a few decades ago. He grew up with a gun in his hand to fight terrorists attacking his neighbors, and armies attacking his country. He wakes each morning knowing that his house and family are in the comfortable crosshairs of enemies sworn to destroy him, his country and his people.
In addition to his enemies, today Netanyahu has to fight against a world that admonishes him for protecting his people. He has to contend with his greatest ally, the United States, which continues to make it impossible to preemptively attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons.
Insults are not a big deal for a leader who has fought for the survival of his people; Bibi has been called worse by members of his own parliament.
The insult says much more about Obama than it does about Bibi.
The Atlantic on Obama anger at Bibi: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/the-crisis-in-us-israel-relations-is-officially-here/382031/
Obama Constitutional Law Professor: http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/obama-a-constitutional-law-professor/
Obama speech on Bin Laden: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/05/02/osama-bin-laden-dead