President Obama’s decision to release top-secret torture memos was reached in the office of Rahm Emanuel over protests from the Director of Central Intelligence. Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the practice, claiming America is safer for it. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi then sought to defend her criticism despite early knowledge of it.
Caught lying, Pelosi attacked the CIA. Director Leon Panetta defended Agency briefers and their detailed records of what Pelosi was told. Needing the Speaker’s help to spearhead his ambitious legislative agenda, Obama’s team brokered a peace between Democrats Pelosi and Panetta.
Why did both Republican Cheney and Democrat Pelosi support the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on one particular “high value” detainee? Answer: the case for war required a plausible “high-level link” between the secular Saddam—who hated religious fundamentalists—and the religious fundamentalists of Al Qaeda—who hated him. After 83 waterboardings, the link emerged in a confession.
Akin to the Inquisition, this detainee was “put to the question.” When proposing to wage a global crusade on false pretenses (The Clash of Civilizations), war-planners required One True Faith in that linkage. As in the Dark Ages, the confession was later recanted and the case collapsed—but only after the war in Iraq was well underway.
Even now that link remains an article of faith—alongside weapons of mass destruction, meetings in Prague and mobile biological weapons laboratories. All were bogus. But without this key link, the case would have been exposed as phony, even treasonous. However, the worst was yet to come—a November 18 White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a two-hour Oval Office encounter with this hawkish right-winger, an untested U.S. commander in chief met his Monica Lewinsky. Distracted by a promiscuous White House intern, Bill Clinton found himself embroiled in impeachment proceedings when he should have been keeping a closer eye on Al Qaeda. The allure of Netanyahu differs in kind but not in its impact on national security—and potentially on the Obama presidency.
The day before their meeting, Netanyahu met with an ebullient American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Obama’s Justice Department had not only withdrawn its espionage case against two AIPAC spies, the lobby had also silenced Obama while they savaged Charles Freeman, forcing him to withdraw his acceptance as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. A known skeptic of Israeli designs on the region, Freeman would have overseen the National Intelligence Estimate, coordinating the views of all 16 intelligence agencies.
By the time Netanyahu appeared alongside Obama, a U.S. president looked like he was a visitor in the office of the Israeli Prime Minister. Rather than issue photographs of their meeting as he did days earlier with Israeli president Shimon Peres, Obama granted Netanyahu a widely reported press conference in which he failed to press Israel’s new prime minister to end the four-decade occupation of Palestine as the top priority for achieving peace in the region.
Instead, he allowed the Israeli leader to use the White House as a pulpit to announce that peace with the Palestinians was a distant second to the risks posed by Iran. Romanced by Netanyahu and the pro-Israelis who populate his presidency, Obama once again fulfilled AIPAC’s wish list. By allowing pro-Israelis to control the White House agenda and Israelis to control the message, Obama signaled a go-ahead to those long determined to expand to Iran the war in Iraq.
While Netanyahu met with Obama, Israelis were pouring the foundations for settlement expansion, that conduct sent a clear signal to those waiting to see who controls foreign policy in the Obama administration. Only the next day did Secretary of State Clinton call for a halt to the settlements.
When Israeli jets bombed Gaza the next day, that conduct reconfirmed who controls U.S. policy. Only after their meeting did CIA Director Panetta urge that Israel not attack Iran. By then it was too late. America’s commander-in-chief had tipped his hand: what AIPAC wants, Israel gets.
Within 24 hours of their meeting, a letter was delivered to Obama by 76 Senators warning, “We must take into account the risks (Israel) will face in any peace agreement.” Within 48 hours, a 90-6 Senate vote denied Obama the funds required to close detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. In a resounding rebuke, both Democrats and Republicans decried his inexperience in national security—making the militaristic Netanyahu look “presidential” by comparison.
The vote tally was known well beforehand by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama’s top political strategist. Both played key roles in producing this presidency. Both Obama and national security were victims of this sophisticated operation.
In stage-managing this series of back-to-back political debacles, Obama’s pro-Israeli advisers worked hand-in-glove with the Israel lobby to ensure he was left with few options but to support Israel’s designs on the region. Forced to prove his mettle, the commander-in-chief will find he has no hope of managing his way through the crises now awaiting him—except to back Israel’s expansionist agenda for the Middle East, ensuring more hatred for the U.S. while fueling The Clash. In the pursuit of Israel’s agenda, the Obama presidency is proving itself the missing link.