Oren as Israel’s ambassador? An exceptional opportunity for Israel and for the U.S.-Israeli relationship…
Laura Rozen has already run a post about one of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s leading candidates to be ambassador to the United States. Normally, one post per contemplated ambassadorial posting of anyone from anywhere would be plenty as typically, ambassadors are fringe players in Washington, hosts of wine tastings and dinners for visiting deputy ...
Laura Rozen has already run a post about one of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s leading candidates to be ambassador to the United States. Normally, one post per contemplated ambassadorial posting of anyone from anywhere would be plenty as typically, ambassadors are fringe players in Washington, hosts of wine tastings and dinners for visiting deputy ministers of mining. But the next U.S. ambassador from Israel is likely to play an extremely important role at a crucial, potential turning point in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Further, the candidate who was the subject of Laura’s post, Dr. Michael Oren, is someone I know particularly well. In fact, he was my roommate in college and as a consequence I have known him for over 30 years. And because, as Laura noted, there is some debate in the press about Michael, I thought it might be helpful to offer a personal perspective.
There have been a couple of implicit critiques of the possibility of the appointment that are worthy of refutation and miss the litany of very clear reasons why Oren would be a spectacularly good choice for the job. One of the critiques, as presented in Laura’s post, asserts a lack of diplomatic experience on his part. Another suggests that one article he wrote during last year’s presidential campaign may have been somewhat critical of the stance of then candidate Obama which was, it was asserted, a potential liability. Yet another element of the critique suggests that he might be too close in position to the neocon views that have fallen into such disrepute in Washington.
As far as experience is concerned, one can hardly imagine a candidate better qualified for the post. Michael has become perhaps the leading expert anywhere on the history of the U.S.-Middle East relationship and a noted, widely respected, analyst of that relationship. His two most recent books, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East and Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, were both New York Times best-sellers that have been acknowledged as the definitive works of their kind. A Columbia and Princeton graduate who has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown as well as at Hebrew University and Tel-Aviv University, he is far from just an academic acclaimed for his rigorous scholarship. A former paratrooper and officer in the IDF, Oren was director of Inter-Religious Affairs in the government of Yitzhak Rabin, served as a Prime Ministerial representative to the refuseniks in the USSR, an advisor to the Israeli UN delegation and as a liaison to the U.S. Sixth Fleet during the Gulf War.
While he did indeed write an academic article that speculated about the consequences of the possible election of either Barack Obama or John McCain, it was not only an admirably thoughtful, fact-based, balanced and accurate piece (and do let’s try to remember he is the possible Israeli Ambassador to the United States and not the other way around) but he is distinguished among leading experts on these issues by his broad bi-partisan base of admirers in the United States including – and I can say with absolute certainty — many at high levels within the Obama administration. As for categorizing his views as being too close to the neocons, that’s just a distortion and reflects a deep misunderstanding of Michael’s views which have often diverged with that group (or those closely associated with it in Israel) whether on Iraq or on the issue of how to handle the question of settlements on the West Bank and, in fact, are difficult to categorize except to say that they are exceptionally and consistently well-informed and independent.
Beyond these points, however, Oren offers a set of skills that seem particularly suited to the Netanyahu government’s needs in the United States over the months and years ahead. Having spent the first 22 years of his life living in the United States, Michael is extraordinarily well-suited to communicating effectively with American audiences, something that he regularly and successfully does through the media and speaking engagements around the country. In fact, no Israeli diplomat since Netanyahu himself has had communications gifts more attuned to reaching and reasoning with American audiences than Michael would. Certainly, no other candidate among those being considered for the job would bring such talents or skills to the job and that may ultimately prove crucial as together Netanyahu and Obama seek to establish the kind of sustainable U.S.-Israeli relationship that will be essential to advancing the interests of both countries in the region. It is hard to imagine any candidate for the job would better represent the interests of Netanyahu or Israel or would offer greater potential for a successful working relationship with the Obama Administration, the Congress or Americans at large.
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David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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