The Normality of the Unexpected

02/08/2012 01:30 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2012

Freshly minted Facebook millionaires, unemployment reduced to 8.3 percent, and rising stock market values do not reduce the possibility of the occurrence of one or more domestic or foreign policy events that could irrevocably alter the political landscape of the 2012 presidential election.

A decision from the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act; State efforts to control illegal immigration; a pre-emptive military strike by Israel against Iran; a worsening of the conflicts in Egypt and Syria; the spread of the "Arab Spring" to oil rich monarchies of the Middle East; a shutdown of the government over efforts to reduce the national debt or a nationwide resumption of Occupy Wall Street could significantly impact the elections.

It will be impossible for us to control or insulate ourselves from events in the Middle East as long as we remain dependent on oil from the region and committed to honor our military defense of Israel.

I recently returned from Israel. There I participated in the 12th Annual Herzliya Conference on "The Balance of Israel's National Security" at the Institute for Policy and Strategy. I was invited to address a special session of the Conference on "Leadership" (Anyone interested in the text of my remarks can access the Conference website or email me and I will forward a copy to those who request it.)

When attending various sessions and panel discussions at the Conference, I remembered that I was a first time visitor to Israel. As such, I also recalled the view of Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary, in 1848 who said "We have not external allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are perpetual and eternal, and those interests it is our duty to follow." This is similar to the advice given to me and others by the legendary African-American labor leader A. Phillip Randolph during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s: "We Negroes have no permanent friends or permanent enemies. Your 'friend' today could be your 'enemy' tomorrow; your 'enemy' today could be your' friend' tomorrow. We only have permanent interests."

With this advice in mind, thoughtful consideration, not opportunist political grandstanding, must be given to whether Israel's domestic and foreign policy is consistent and in accordance with America's "permanent interests" and our urgent domestic priorities.

Some limited, but not all-inclusive, observations from attending the Herzliya Conference are:

  1. It is not a question of "whether" Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike at Iran's nuclear production facilities; it's only a question of "when."
  2. Decades of Israel's occupation of land recognized by the UN as "Palestinian land" under the 1967 UN Resolution 242, following various conflicts with the PLO, and the Israeli government's continued sanctioning of expansion of settler communities on such land are undermining the heart and democratic soul of Israel. Continued occupation is corrupting, undermining and besmirching Israel's founding ideals of peace, justice and equality before the law.
  3. The PLO's past use of violence to achieve its objectives, along with Hamas' continued threat of rocket attacks, undermines both groups credibility in Israel and within the international community. Unless irrevocably ceased, and a declaration of a commitment to non-violent protest is publicly stated and adhered to, it is unlikely that Israel will "unoccupy" lands it believes are essential for its safety and security.
  4. America and Israel should immediately discontinue their public diplomatic "kabuki dance" with the American people, the international community and the PLO. A continuation of this kabuki dance only fosters the illusion that they are "committed to a two State solution." They cannot be credibly committed to this diplomatic objective while simultaneously permitting settlements to occur and expand on the very land necessary and meaningful for a "Palestinian State."
  5. President Obama is perceived as a "reluctant," unwilling and only quasi "reliable partner" committed to Israel's security. (Perceptions often define "reality"). America under President Obama is no longer regarded as providing a "reliable shoulder" Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia can rely upon after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt.
  6. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is widely respected and admired; especially for his leadership and legacy of fostering a coalition between the African-American and American Jewish communities during our civil rights movement.*
My response to criticism of the president is similar to my response to prominent African-American critics of his domestic policies: What is your alternative?

Constructive criticism is always appropriate of President Obama. (I have been a frequent critic of one or more of what I then perceived to be deficiencies in his leadership or pursuit of a policy I thought was not in the best interest of our country.)

Examples of an event, in real-time, that may impact the landscape of the 2012 Presidential election is the reaction, not only from the Catholic Church but non-Catholic persons, to the recent new rule from the Obama administration requiring religious schools and hospitals to provide their employees with access to free birth control, and possible U.S. military involvement in the worsening situation in Syria. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius' decision appears to have ignited a "firestorm" of criticism. Organizations and persons other than the Catholic Church are claiming the Secretary's action constitutes an infringement of freedom of religious choice, beyond the scope of the traditional issues of pro-life and pro-choice. Catholics constitute approximately 20 percent of the electorate. Candidate Obama received 54 percent of the "Catholic vote" in November 2008.

A decision by the president to involve the United States military in Syria, unless in the most limited support role, runs the risks of alienating his voter support among Independents and substantial members of the Democratic Party, already weary of our continued presence in Afghanistan.

Finally, the recent results in the Republican primaries of Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, and the decision of the Obama re-election campaign to additionally fund their efforts through a Super Pac to match the Republican equivalents indicates the potential of a presidential campaign awash in an unprecedented amount of money spent for print and electronic media ads.

*(The views expressed above following my visit to Israel are my personal views only. They are not intended to suggest directly or indirectly as being the views of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute, a non-profit, non-political , 501(c) (3)(entity), at Stanford University.)