Foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead has joined Thomas Friedman and others in congratulating the Obama administration for condemning Israel over the announcement it was building 1600 apartment units in East Jerusalem.
“The Obama administration had no choice but to respond strongly,” Mead writes. “Otherwise the administration would have looked weak and irresolute and the repercussions throughout the world could well have been grave.”
But in the Middle East, nothing reeks of weakness more than lashing out publicly at an ally. The administration is well aware of this, because it has endured the insults of virtually every one of its Arab allies (all except for Egypt). Most recently, for example, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her face, explaining that the United States’s proposed sanctions against Iran were too little, too late.
On top of that, the White House has gladly swallowed the far worse taunts of actual adversaries, like Iran and Syria. At a Damascus banquet featuring Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and Hamas’s Khaled Meshaal, Syrian President Bashar Assad openly mocked Clinton: he joked that he had misunderstood her demands that Syria distance itself from Iran, so instead, said Assad, he was waiving visa requirements for the Islamic Republic.
“The President of the United States cannot afford to look like a patsy,” writes Mead. “Any American president needs to be seen as a figure who commands respect.” Well, sure. But it is not clear why that respect should come at the expense of our allies instead of our enemies.