- By James TraubJames Traub is a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation. "Terms of Engagement," his column for ForeignPolicy.com, runs weekly. Follow his Twitter feed at @JamesTraub1 or his presidential alter ego at jqaspeaks.tumblr.com.
As a general rule, American politicians do not rally to the side of foreign leaders when those leaders directly confront the president of the United States. I don’t, for example, recall liberal Democrats cheering on French President Jacques Chirac when he defied President George W. Bush on Iraq, even though they thought he was right. Siding with France would have seemed unpatriotic — and, of course, stupid. The American people, and thus their political leaders, will instinctively line up behind the president in the face of a direct challenge from abroad. Unless the country in question is Israel.
Witness the events of recent days: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, seems to have decided that it’s open season on Barack Obama. In his speech this week in New Orleans before the general assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Netanyahu not only repeated his longstanding view that Iran will curb its nuclear program only in the face of a credible threat of military action, but added — gratuitously, and with questionable accuracy — that the regime had stopped trying to build a bomb only in 2003, when it feared an attack by President-You-Know-Who.