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Another Triumph of Smart Power

U.S.-Israel relations bottom out.

2:28 PM, Mar 26, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Over at the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl dives into an unnecessarily tense meeting between Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and President Obama.

Obama has added more poison to a U.S.-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades. Tuesday night the White House refused to allow non-official photographers record the president’s meeting with Netanyahu; no statement was issued afterward. Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length. That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to. Just like the Palestinians, European governments cannot be more friendly to an Israeli leader than the United States. Would Britain have expelled a senior Israeli diplomat Tuesday because of a flap over forged passports if there were no daylight between Obama and Netanyahu? Maybe not.

President Obama's stewardship of the special U.S.-Israel relationship has been nothing short of shameful. But, beyond that, his behavior towards Netanyahu doesn't make a lick of sense. There's no quantifiable end game here. Obama is either so caught up in his own personality cult that he honestly believes he can drive a wedge between the Israeli electorate and Netanyahu's fragile government (unlikely), or he's just that infantile -- throwing a temper tantrum over an ill-timed settlement announcement.

There are deeper implications. Perhaps for the first time, an American president is using ultimatums to try and force Israeli-Palestinian peace. The result? Israelis no longer trust White House judgment on the peace issue, while Palestinian territories remain a hotbed of virulent anti-American rhetoric. Obama has isolated his only reliable partner in this mess, unnecessarily complicating a process already paralyzed by diplomatic inertia.

This is just another example of the White House's lean towards ideology over pragmatism, and how smart power has proven to be anything but. Foreign policy wonks are still trying to cobble together a functional definition of what history books will dub the "Obama Doctrine." It may just be "Welcome your enemies, snub your allies, and find yourself very alone in the world."

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