The Obama administration's handling of the organized assaults on American Embassies and personnel on September 11, 2012 – and later the other organized protests across the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan – is a window into its possible reaction should Israel conclude that the cost of facing a nuclear-armed Iran outweighs the cost of a military strike against Iranian facilities.
It was a "dress rehearsal," so to speak, and frightening at many levels – not least of which is that there appears to be no understanding in the White House that there are those who need the United States as their enemy. President Obama said "the tide of war is receding," but our withdrawal from Iraq and impending withdrawal from Afghanistan are understood by Iran, the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and various Salafist groups as unilateral retreats in the fact of their continuing expansion. This is not only true of Islamic organizations and governments; Vladimir Putin threw out USAID last week, undoing yet another part of the administration's "reset" with Russia, and Hugo Chavez keeps "U.S. imperialism" on his teleprompter for every occasion.
The administration pedaled as hard and fast as it could from association with the junky YouTube that it claimed set off the massive demonstrations across the Muslim world.
- "Let me state very clearly and I hope it is obvious that the United States government had nothing to do with this video," Secretary Clinton said. "To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage."
- In case she wasn't clear, she added, "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others."
- President Obama weighed in. "The United States has been a nation that respects all faiths… We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others."
- A "hateful video" triggered a "spontaneous protest … outside of our consulate in Benghazi," said Amb. Susan Rice. Rice and Jay Carney insisted that neither U.S. policy nor President Obama was the focus of the outburst.
- The FBI rousted an American citizen in the middle of the night and took from his home for "questioning," about a "parole violation," walking him right by a line of journalists camped outside.
- The administration spent more than $70,000 to run ads in Pakistan denouncing the video and disclaiming responsibility.
There couldn't have been a stronger and more concerted effort to ask people not to blame President Obama & Company – time, money and relegation of the First (and maybe the Fifth) Amendment to an afterthought.
It didn't work. A protester in Malaysia on Friday held a sign that read, "Obama, our patience has its limit. Don't blame us if your citizens die. Blame yourself. U started it!" In Egypt they raised the al Qaeda flag and chanted, "Obama, there are still a billion Osamas."
Compare that to Gen. Dempsey's comment – unquestionably pre-approved by the White House, since he's still got his stars – that the U.S. didn't want to be seen as "complicit" in any Israeli strike on Iran. His remark follows a series of high-profile efforts by the Administration to distance itself from Israel in the international arena even beyond administration-sanctioned statements that military action against Iran would be useless or counterproductive or premature.
- Bowing to Turkish wishes, the administration allowed Israel to be barred from the multilateral air-rescue exercise Anatolian Eagle. Then Israel was publicly slapped by both Secretary of Defense Panetta and NATO Secretary General Rasmussen when Turkey said Iran-related intelligence coming from NATO installations inside Turkey could not be shared with Israel.
- The U.S. held a Special Operations exercise, Eager Lion 2012, with 19 Arab and Muslim countries in May, just after canceling its vaunted Austere Challenge exercise with Israel. Maj. Gen. Ken Tovo, head of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, told reporters covering Eager Lion 2012 in Amman, "The message that I want to send through this exercise is that we have developed the right partners throughout the region and across the world ... insuring that we have the ability to ... meet challenges that are coming to our nations."
- He was seconded by Rasmussen, who simply waved away Israel's absence from the NATO meeting in Chicago, even as he acknowledged that 13 other NATO "partner" nations would attend because, "In today's world security challenges know no borders, and no country or alliance can deal with most of them on their own."
- Austere Challenge was slated again and then reduced in size and scope.
- Israel is not a member of the Obama Administration's Global Counterterrorism Forum – which has 29 members, 11 of whom are members of the organization of the Islamic Conference. How's that for distancing? Israel can't be a member of a counterterrorism forum because it won't agree that attacks on Israeli citizens constitute terrorism.
The administration claims that bilateral U.S.-Israel relations are just peachy, but abandoning Israel in the international arena strongly enhances the efforts of the delegitimizers and boycotters. And to no end.
Radical Arab and Iranian good will cannot be bought by administration efforts to put distance between itself and Israel or by trying to steer their anger toward a single American exercising his First Amendment rights with a video camera. They are at war with the United States – with this president, with the last two and with the next one (whether in 2013 or 2017). Only by acknowledging the depth of the predicament and by standing with our friends, including Israel, can we hope to defeat our foes. Hiding or sidling away won't help.
Our enemies are smarter than that.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington.