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“Chickenshit”

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So you’ve probably seen all of this:

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat.

These quotes fill me with interesting thoughts and feelings!

  • It’s very interesting to me (although not surprising) that Bibi’s efforts to look tough and resolute to one crowd (domestic audience, Israel backers in US),come off as cowardly and irresolute to another (the Obama admin). Policymakers face different priorities; it’s almost impossible that they can look tough to everyone. Reaffirms my view that reputation is complex, multifaceted, and that generally it’s a waste of time to spend blood and treasure on displaying “resolve.”
  • The depth of the animosity towards Bibi is intriguing, but not particularly surprising. Bibi’s most significant mistake in handling the United States has been his urge to turn Israel into a partisan issue, and throw in with the Republican Party. It hasn’t happened quite yet, but you can see the threat on the horizon. It’s an apocalyptical stupid move for Bibi to make, however emotionally satisfying it may be in the moment to rail against the weakness of a Democratic President.
  • Speaking of apocalyptic stupidity, can we all agree now on just how bad the 2010 “Israel is about to bomb Iran” article from Jeffrey Goldberg was? You remember; Goldberg breathlessly transcribed the statements of Israeli policymakers on how they viewed the Iranian nuclear program as a VERY SERIOUS MATTER that would require VERY SERIOUS BOMBING unless Obama did something. That the article amounted to a transparent Israeli bluff should have been obvious at the time, but inexplicably some people took it seriously.  Turns out now that the Obama administration has concluded that Bibi is chickenshit, in part because of the serial claims about Bibi’s dire views of the Iranian threat. Cry wolf enough times, even Americans will stop believing you.
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