Seven months after Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, it is still not clear what the United States' new strategic goal is: halting Iran's nuclear program, or learning to live with a nuclear Iran? It is also not clear what the new U.S. vision for the Middle East is: a partial but realistic peace, or a full but fictitious peace? It is not clear whether Obama's United States plans to isolate Middle Eastern extremists or encourage them. It is not clear what its attitude toward Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran will be. Nor is it clear whether it will leave Iraq victorious or defeated. But, on one issue, there is no doubt. In everything related to Israel, Obama's United States has adopted a tough-love strategy.
"Tough love" is a loaded phrase. It has educational, emotional and sometimes even sexual connotations. It encompasses the paternalistic belief that the educator knows what's better for the pupil's welfare than the pupil does. Therefore, it has traditionally been associated with reform schools and patronizing conservatism.
Recently, however, "tough love" has become the rage in liberal circles in Washington and New York. Democratic opinion leaders - many of them Jewish - have begun to speak with shining eyes about the need to administer a dose of tough love to Israel: to train it, wean it, set boundaries for it. To force it against its will to do what is good for it.
Israel, for its part, has done quite a bit to bolster the tough-love advocates. The pampered Israeli-American princess abused its status as the apple of Uncle Sam's eye. For years, it made a mockery of the U.S. administration and embarked on a spree of settlements, checkpoints and illegal outposts. With reckless abandon, it threw off every yoke and waved a red flag at the good and the great in America's capital.
Therefore, when Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel entered the White House, many people advised them to tame the rebel. And the president and his chief of staff received the advice enthusiastically. To the two tough guys from Chicago, the idea of loving Israel in a strong, painful manner sounded cool.
The results can be seen almost every day on television screens throughout the world: an American policy taken straight out of a British public school. A diplomacy comprised of public reprimands. The new United States is trying to wean Israel from its bad habits by means of the teacher's ruler. Even as it bows and scrapes to Saudi Arabia and is scrupulously careful of Iran's honor, it humiliates Israel. The president's feet on the table were a message. The goal is a well-trained, obedient Israel.
The United States is a superpower. If the United States wants a broken, battered Israel, it will get a broken, battered Israel. This is a collision between a tank and an ATV, between a stealth bomber and a glider. But the question the White House ought to be asking itself is whether riding roughshod over Israel serves its goals - whether a crushed Israel is an American interest.
The answer is unequivocal: no. Already, Israel's public humiliation is hurting America. It is making even moderate Arabs unwilling to contribute anything to advancing the diplomatic process. And without a significant Arab contribution, there will be no diplomatic process.
But a continued tough love policy toward Israel is liable to do damage that is far more serious - and irreversible. Without a strong Israel, a Middle East peace can neither be established nor survive. Without a strong Israel, the Middle East will go up in flames.
Therefore, instead of playing games taken out of a basic training manual, Americans and Israelis must work in harmony. They must think outside the box and come up with a creative solution, based on listening to each other and mutual respect. They must jointly advance a genuine regional peace.
The hour is late. Both Obama's government and Benjamin Netanyahu's government have made serious mistakes the last few months. But ultimately, both Obama and Netanyahu are worthy leaders who want to do the right thing. Therefore, the two must stop the dangerous game they are playing. The time has come to replace tough love with sensible, grown-up love.
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