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Why is Michael Oren Trashing Obama?

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., has released a new book vilifying President Obama and his supposed treatment of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the US and currently a member of the Israeli parliament, is promoting his book Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, which will be released on June 23. It’s an autobiographical tell-all about his four years as Israel’s top diplomat to the US between 2009-2013. Oren, an American-born expatriate and the author of two books on the Middle East, has been openly vilifying President Obama In op-eds and interviews during the past week, accusing him of deliberately sabotaging the relationship between the US and Israel.

Oren began the media blitz with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on June 16 headlined “How Obama Abandoned Israel.” Oren claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US president “both made mistakes, but only one purposely damaged U.S.-Israel relations.”

In the days that followed, Oren also proffered his views as to “Why Obama is wrong about Iran being ‘rational’ on nukes” in the Los Angeles Times. Oren’s college roommate Ken Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy, gave him a platform to venture into psycho-babble with a rambling discourse on “How Obama opened his heart to the ‘Muslim World,’” claiming that Obama’s attitudes toward Islam and Muslim countries stem from his dysfunctional relationship with the Kenyan father who abandoned him and his Christian mother. (This was too much even for Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who denounced Oren’s venture into amateur psychoanalysis, saying it “veers into the realm of conspiracy theories.”)

US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who regarded Oren as a friend during the years that they were envoys to each other’s countries, attributed Oren’s sudden manifestation of hostility towards Obama to his becoming a politician who wants to sell more books. (Akiva Eldar in al-Monitor wrote, “One might easily imagine how Netanyahu would have reacted to a critical article of that sort by Shapiro—a personal appointment of Obama.”) In an article on Friday, Barak Ravid of Haaretz, who has contacts at the highest levels in the Israeli prime minister’s office and in diplomatic circles, debunked and demolished several of Oren’s more outrageous claims before concluding that “Oren incited against Obama in his op-ed and distorted the facts in order to sell another few books to conservative Republicans who loathe the American president.”

More Than Just Book Promotion

Although there’s no reason to doubt that Oren wants to boost book sales, Oren’s slash-and-burn undiplomatic diatribe may have been a work in progress during his years as ambassador. His antipathy towards Obama predates not only his appointment to a four-year term as ambassador in 2009 but Obama’s election.  While a senior fellow at the neoconservative Shalem Center and a professor at Georgetown University, Oren, an effusive admirer of George W. Bush, wrote a piece for the JINSA Journal of International Security Affairs comparing the 2008 US presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

After approvingly citing McCain’s zealous support for the war in Iraq and implacability with regard to Iran, as well as his more probable acquiescence to Israeli settlement expansion, Oren argued that McCain was the far better choice from an American as well as an Israeli point of view because “McCain’s priorities are unlikely to ruffle the U.S.-Israel relationship; Obama’s are liable to strain the alliance, especially if, as recent polls predict, Netanyahu and the Likud return to power.” Oren also recommended voting for McCain because of his superior leadership capabilities:

The candidates offer a distinct set of policy choices to voters concerned with Israel, irrespective of what they think is “best” for it. In casting their ballots, though, Americans should be mindful of the fact that a President’s ability to pursue any course of action in the Middle East is greatly limited by events and circumstances in the region. Political upheaval in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the recrudescence of large-scale civil strife in Iraq or Lebanon, the acceleration of Iran’s uranium enrichment program—all would mitigate the chances for an American peace initiative, for troop withdrawals, and non-violent action against Iran. In such cases, presidential platforms will be overshadowed by the need for crisis-mode decision-making, for projecting power and exercising prudence. Ultimately, Israel is best served by a President capable of grappling with rapid and often turbulent change. Pro-Israel voters, then, should be less concerned with which candidate, John McCain or Barack Obama, favors or opposes settlements or is open or opposed to dialogue with Iran, but which is the ablest leader.

Oren argued that it was McCain. Oren’s overt partisanship in the US election did not go unnoticed in Israel after Obama and Netanyahu had won their respective elections. On April 22, 2009, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Netanyahu was appointing Oren as Israel’s ambassador to the US.

A new source of tension has arisen between the Obama administration and Israel, this time concerning the decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to appoint Michael Oren as Israel’s ambassador to Washington.  A senior source close to the administration said last night: “In light of the harsh criticism that Oren directed at Obama in the election campaign, appointing him as ambassador is an odd choice.”

During the campaign, Oren published an article in which he tried to answer the question who would be better for Israel as a US president: Obama or John McCain.  Obama’s aides said that in the guise of an academic study, Oren conveyed his personal opinions and published things that portrayed Obama as non-supportive of Israel.  Oren wrote that the Obama administration would present a completely new initiative based on zero tolerance for construction in settlements and roadblocks, an initiative that would be founded on the assessment that the road to Baghdad and Tehran passes through Bethlehem and Nablus.

Oren wrote further that McCain would not disrupt the United States’ relations with Israel, whereas Obama could be expected to deviate from the alliance ….

Oren is close to a series of figures in the previous Republican administration, and has held meetings with figures in the campaign staff of former Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain. … Oren’s associates say that he is a very charismatic person, who is also close to many Democratic senators.  They say that Obama himself declared that he had read Oren’s book.

Oren may already have had the blueprint and the plot line for Ally laid out seven years ago when Obama defeated McCain. Three months after Obama took office, Benjamin Netanyahu dispatched the ideologically driven, Republican-sympathizing historian as his ambassador to the US, perhaps to chronicle the new Democratic president’s failures, and possibly to engineer them, at least with regard to Israel. Oren admits that, although he came to the ambassador’s post from outside Israel’s foreign ministry and security circles, he received no diplomatic training. Furthermore, “No one briefed me on Israel’s positions on crucial issues such as bilateral trade and nuclear proliferation.”

The New York Post and Politico have both published uncritical synopses of the book and Oren’s promotional op-eds, hyping some of Oren’s more vitriolic accusations with no attempt to verify them.  Some Jewish news sites, however, are taking a closer look at Oren’s claims. In The Forward, Larry Cohler-Esses fact-checked Oren’s account of his run-in with Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times, which led him to conclude, “I will read Oren’s book now with great interest, but not without wondering, in what other cases might basic accuracy or context be missing?” A reviewer in the right-wing Jewish Press, a hawkish and staunch apologist for Israel (who apparently was provided with the full text of the book in advance) found himself “disappointed” with Ally, albeit for different reasons [dots are in the original]:

I hate to say this, “Ally” is not so much a description of how Obama betrayed the US-Israel relationship as much as how Michael Oren has transformed from an esteemed historian who is scrupulous in his dedication to truth…to a diplomat who reluctantly understands that he sometimes has to bend the truth…to a politician who disregards the truth to reach his goals…to a salesman trying to pump up his book to a potential audience by deceiving the public as to what the book is about.

Focus on Iran

On Sunday night Oren switched his promotional focus, telling his audience at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan that the timing of the book’s publication, and his vigorous promotion of it in the media, wasn’t about Obama, but derailing negotiations with Iran. “It’s about saying no” to an Iran deal.” Oren compared “this critical moment” to the World War II era of the Holocaust and implored his audience to “intercede and perhaps save millions of Jews.”

Obama probably is not Oren’s only target. The hints and innuendos from the book that have been judiciously made available to the mainstream media make it clear that Ally is designed to discredit and destroy Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate. As Secretary of State, she was responsible for implementing Obama’s foreign policy failures. Oren also holds some personal grudges against Clinton, according to the Times of Israel‘s 20 juiciest disclosures from Ally.

While he later spent many hours with her, secretary of state Hillary Clinton inexplicably rebuffed a series of initial requests from Oren for a private meeting, even though his and her predecessors had frequently held such sessions. She once “socked” him on the arm when they happened to pass, and laughingly claimed that he wasn’t returning her messages. But still she wouldn’t meet with him.

Although numerous Israeli political figures, including members of Israel’s right-wing government and the leader of his own party have criticized the claims Oren has made in promoting Ally, Republican candidates for the presidential nomination are unlikely to pass up the opportunity in upcoming presidential debates to quote from a real live historian, using swaths of dialogue excerpted from Oren’s Ally to either implicate Clinton as full partner in Obama’s sins against the Jewish State, or to force her to denounce him while being called to account for her own exposed venality.  Stay tuned…

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