With President Barack Obama announcing — to nobody’s surprise — his intention to seek a second term, and Republicans fighting for the chance to oppose him, this might be a good time to lay out our early views on the 2012 election.
No, we’re not making endorsements. Consider this, instead, a plea for a sober and respectful debate on the candidates and their positions on a wide range of issues, starting with the always explosive issue of U.S. Middle East policy.
What we don’t need are reflexive defenses by partisan supporters of an administration that, to put it mildly, has been far from perfect — or wild conspiracy theories and reckless charges from its critics.
We’ve made no secret of the fact we disagree with some of Obama’s Middle East policies and fail to understand others. His early demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze effectively paralyzed a peace process that the administration claimed was an early priority; his response to the “Arab spring” upheavals has been inconsistent.
But Middle East policy is, at best, a maddeningly complex tangle of diplomatic, political and national security factors. No administration gets it all right, but — thankfully — U.S.-Israel ties continue to deepen even during times of tension between the two allies. It’s important to remember that — and the importance of working with political leaders in both parties — even as we vigorously debate the details of U.S. policy.
By all means, raise questions about this president’s policies and his mistakes. Do the same for all the men and women who would like to send him back to the south side of Chicago. Demand realistic, substantive answers, not slogans.
But it can only hurt Israel and the cause of a vibrant, vital U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership when we equate opposition to specific Israeli policies by administrations in Washington to hostility to the Jewish state itself. The same goes for when we respond with bitter partisan invective to every indication of the inevitable differences between the way U.S. and Israeli leaders perceive their countries’ vital national interests.
With so much happening across the region, with Iran still looming as a major threat to Israel and beyond, and with Israel’s standing in the world continuing to plummet, maintaining the strongest possible U.S.-Israel ties should be a major priority as the 2012 presidential race gets under way.
Debate about Middle East policy is healthy, but maybe this would be a good year to dial down the rhetoric and to work especially hard to keep U.S. support for Israel from getting sucked into the maws of hyper-partisan political campaigns.