By Dr. Jay Bergman ~
A common conclusion in the commentary on President Obama’s denigration of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at last week’s G-20 summit conference in France – in which Obama said that he, too, was “fed up” with Netanyahu after French President Sarkosy called him a liar – is that it revealed Obama’s true feelings not only about the Prime Minister of Israel but about Israel itself. This conclusion is correct. That the president was speaking privately to Sarkosy and thought his words were unrecorded means that they had no intended political effect and that he meant what he said.
To be sure, it is entirely possible that Obama hoped his comments would repair relations, his own as well as America’s, with an allied leader he had earlier snubbed by not hugging him the way he did Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, who is hardly an American ally now that his government is systematically imposing Sharia law and ruthlessly suppressing the largely pro-western Turkish military. But it also seems obvious that Sarkosy’s calling Netanyahu a liar touched a raw nerve in Obama by triggering the latter’s own longstanding dislike and distrust of the Israeli prime minister.
This too has been a staple of the commentary in newspapers and on the Internet. But there is an aspect of Obama’s comments that, as far as I know, has not been brought to light. After Sarkosy’s remark, Obama could have said nothing or agreed politely, and then turned the conversation to a different and more consequential topic; the presidents of France and the United States don’t meet very often and one would think they would want to maximize their time together. But Obama did not do that. Instead, he implicitly minimized Sarkosy’s irritation with Netanyahu compared to his own (“You think you’re fed up with him?”) and then explained his irritation as the result of his having “to deal with him every day” – which is a way of saying that he thinks about Netanyahu every day.
There is something enormously self-revealing about this. Given the range, complexity, and multiplicity of the issues the president, any president, has to understand in formulating policies he must explain and defend publicly, it is exceedingly unlikely that Obama has to “deal with” Netanyahu every day. He surely doesn’t talk to him every day. Nor, I am fairly certain, does Obama devote his precious time to matters concerning Israel on a daily basis (especially now that the president is in “campaign mode”). For that reason the president’s complaint is more a reflection of his interior life, the subjective world of his fears, his resentments, and his unspoken anger, than a function of the demands of the presidency.
I am not a psychologist. But it seems clear to me nonetheless, as I suspect it would to any reasonably intelligent person who took seriously the exact words with which Obama belittled Netanyahu, that the president is obsessed with Netanyahu and, by extension, with Israel. Such an obsession almost certainly does not make Obama happy. On the contrary, it probably makes him unhappy – which probably increases his hostility to the Jewish state.
Whether Obama is happy or unhappy is of no concern to me. Nor should it be the concern of the American people. What we should be concerned with is that persons with obsessions sometimes act irrationally, and with consequences that in ordinary people are usually trivial but in the case of President Obama, the most powerful man on the planet, could be catastrophic not only for America but for Israel as well. With its very existence threatened by genocidal religious fanatics in Iran, the last thing Israel needs now is to be the trigger for irrational behavior harmful to Israel by the leader of the only country in the world whose people overwhelmingly support it.
Obama’s comments should be deeply troubling and profoundly worrisome for Americans and Israelis alike.
Jay Bergman is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University and the author, most recently, of “Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakarov.”