The U.S. government is in a clash with Israel over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, housing construction that the Obama administration sees as a threat to renewed peace talks – and guess which side the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial page is taking?
In a phrase that the neocons used in the 1980s to demonize Americans who criticized Ronald Reagan’s bloody policies in Central America, it could be said that the Post’s editorial writers are “blaming America first” – and largely taking the side of Israel.
On Tuesday, the Post’s lead editorial, “The quarrel with Israel,” did acknowledge that Israel touched off this latest dispute by announcing approval of 1,600 Jewish housing units beyond Israel’s 1967 borders while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting and reaffirming U.S. solidarity with Israel.
But the editorial goes on to lay most of the blame on President Barack Obama and his advisers.
“It has been a little startling – and a little puzzling – to see Mr. Obama deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the Jewish state,” the Post editorialists wrote. “The dispute’s dramatic escalation ... seems to have come at the direct impetus of Mr. Obama.
“Officials said he outlined points for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to make in a searing, 45-minute phone call to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu on Friday. On Sunday senior Obama adviser David Axelrod heaped on more vitriol, saying in a television appearance that the settlement announcement had been an ‘affront’ and an ‘insult’ that had ‘undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region.’”
Obama’s anger at Netanyahu’s right-wing government for thumbing its nose at the United States over the settlement issue left the Post’s editorialists fretting that Obama would now see his low popularity among Israelis sink even lower.
Israeli media pundits have stressed Obama’s middle name, Hussein, and suggested that he is a Muslim sympathizer because he visited Cairo to address a Muslim audience and has yet to travel to Jerusalem, as President, to speak to Israelis. (Obama did visit Israel during the 2008 campaign.)
The Post’s editorial suggested that Obama needs to do some urgent fence-mending with the Israelis.
“Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama’s poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders.
“If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends.”
The Post’s editorialists also have been working on other themes recently that can be expected to influence the capital’s conventional wisdom against Obama, especially if he becomes more assertive and more populist on issues from American health care to Middle East peace.
On Monday, the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt detected in Obama a “happiness deficit,” arguing that a core problem of his presidency is that he doesn’t seem joyful enough.
“Here’s a theory about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn’t seem all that happy being president,” Hiatt wrote.
How such drivel can pass as serious commentary in the elite Washington Post may be amazing to outsiders, but not for regular readers of this newspaper that has lived off its Watergate reputation for nearly four decades. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “The Woeful Washington Post.”]
In contrast to today, Hiatt and most other Post columnists were solidly onboard U.S. policy during George W. Bush's administration -- when it made Muslims the targets, not just for policy criticism but for U.S. bombs.
Hiatt’s editorial section cheered Bush's march to war in Iraq, swooned over Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deceptive WMD speech, prematurely saw victories in Iraq, savaged war critics like former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, and got pretty much everything wrong.
Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Hiatt’s editorials pronounced without equivocation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Only later, after the U.S. military found no caches of WMD did Hiatt concede that maybe the Post should not have been so categorical.
“If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction,” Hiatt said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004]
Yet, despite the Post’s many errors and the painful consequences of that war – including more than 4,300 U.S. soldiers dead along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – there were no adverse consequences for the Post’s editorial brain trust.
Hiatt and virtually every pro-invasion columnist (who hasn’t passed away or retired) still have gainful employment in the Post’s editorial section. The Post also has hired two of Bush’s right-wing speechwriters, Michael Gerson and Marc Thiessen, to tilt the editorial section even further rightward.
Now, Hiatt and his team seem determined to whip Obama into line behind the Post’s preferred Middle East policies, making sure the President doesn’t stray far from the neocon path.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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This story was published on March 16, 2010.