THE BLOG
03/24/2013 04:33 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2013

Obama Can't Win on Israel

Ordinarily I try to avoid criticizing journalists and the media; not because they don't deserve ridicule or should be immune from the same accountability they dish out with such ease, but because circular firing squads are mostly unproductive affairs.

However, in honor of Washington Post blogger and champion of Orwellian nonsense Jennifer Rubin, I'm making a special exception.

This week, Ms. Rubin's column on the President's Middle East trip channeled the rest of the right wing establishment's hackling pretty faithfully. The piece is shamelessly contradictory, bordering on incoherent, but also a useful illustration of what's wrong with our politics today: for media as well as elected officials, supporting the opposition is prohibited... especially when you agree with it.

The CliffsNotes version of Rubin's argument is this: Barack Obama proved his poor judgment and past failures, once and for all, by doing precisely what Rubin and her fellow ideologues attacked him for not doing in his first term -- visiting Israel.

I have criticized the President on a number of occasions, and taken shellackings in the comments section below my blog posts for doing so; but Rubin's logic here absolutely beggars belief:

"Israeli-U.S. relations were abysmal in the first term... with an entire trip designed to repair the damage, even MSNBC hosts can admit the obvious."

By journeying to the region, the president has demonstrated how terrible our relationship has been? First, Air Force One touched down in other countries besides the Holy Land this week. Second, if a traditional visit to a state which receives more of our intelligence sharing and weapons sales than any other country demonstrates an "abysmal" schism, then what on earth does a rosy honeymoon between allies look like? Barack Obama leading a chorus of 'Dayenu' at Bibi's seder?

By Rubin's reasoning, the president could pick up the afikomen tab for every family in Israel, and it would belie guilt for past sins. Indeed, according to the conservative narrative of the trip, there is no other possible explanation for one ally's visit to another--it's a giant mea culpa.

For those keeping score, this is a rare admission that, quite literally, Obama is doomed if he visits, and doomed if he doesn't. Both avenues are jammed with Republican criticism. If anything's "obvious" here, it's that.

"The Cairo speech was a disaster... and a great deal of [Obama's] speech [this week] was a step by step effort to correct it."

Let's set aside the fact that many credit the Cairo speech for promoting democratic expression in the region, contributing (however minimally) to the burgeoning Arab Spring, and defusing some of the Muslim world's anger towards the United States after Bush's administration -- a White House which wasn't exactly known for sending Christmas cards to countries in the neighborhood. Yes, one can argue -- and I have -- that the Arab Spring's long-term effect on U.S. strategic interests may prove to be mixed, but calling one of Obama's more historic speeches a "disaster" is a little histrionic. But, again, let's set this aside, as it's not Ms. Rubin's primary point.

The real argument is that the president's speech fundamentally abandoned the Cairo message. Here's the thing, though: not one policy statement in Obama's speech this week contradicted the Cairo speech. Not one.

"'Linkage' is a farce.... jihadism and the Revolutionary Islamist state of Iran are [at the center of the region's problems]...every urgent problem flows from that nexus."

Iran represents the biggest threat to the Middle East, yes. But to insist that engaging Israel over certain policies can't have benefits beyond the Golan Heights or the Negev desert is to adopt an un-nuanced and stubborn posture in our foreign policy. It might make us feel better to assume that our (deservedly) longtime ally is purely a victim, but the Middle East isn't always a morality play pitting Good Hero against Evil Villain. Israel isn't the "bad guy" here, but that doesn't mean the country can't be more helpful.

The president was right to insist that Bibi Netanyahu cease building new settlements in the West Bank. He was right to state that Mahmoud Abbas could be a promising partner for peace (unlike, say, Hamas in Gaza). And he was right, just yesterday, to convince Bibi to apologize to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the deadly 2010 flotilla raid on a Turkish ship bringing aid to Palestinians.

The latter breakthrough could prove helpful as Turkey attempts to manage the flood of refugees streaming out of Syria; which in turn, serves the Jewish state's interests in seeing the humanitarian and military chaos currently raging across its northern border resolved. That's what they call "linkage."

"The Obama administration's notion that 'everyone knows where the deal is' is not true.'"

Sure it is. Of the three general Israeli objectives -- 1) that it remain a Jewish state, 2) that it be democratic, and 3) that it control the holy sites in Judea and Samaria -- only two can possibly exist at the same time. If Israel retains control of the territories, it could be democratic, but that would permit the Palestinian vote, which due to demographic trends will guarantee a non-Jewish Israel; or it can remain an undemocratic, occupying country. If, however, it desires to remain both Jewish and democratic (the current preference), it must cede land for a Palestinian state.

For the Palestinians' part, they must 1) recognize Israel's legitimate right to exist; 2) vow to not only renounce terror, but effectively police it; and 3) accept that "the right of return" is no longer a reality.

We are very far from any peace settlement, but that's mostly because the Palestinians are split between Fatah in the West Bank and the more militant Hamas in Gaza; and Netanyahu's coalition includes ultra-religious nut-jobs like the Shas party: in other words, radicals. But to say the general outlines for a deal are unknown is just inaccurate. We know the terms. We just need the parties.

All of this is depressing, but so is a political environment where, instead of supporting a trip that they themselves advocated, conservatives spent the week resuscitating manufactured complaints from the past, then declaring some sort of bizarre political victory that nobody can decipher.

Because, after all, Jennifer Rubin's column is entitled "Right Turn," where saying something nice about the Left is not an option.