OBAMA/PETRAEUS VS. CANTOR…. As the Nuclear Security Summit came to a close this week in Washington, President Obama talked at some length about his national security vision at a press conference. Near its completion, the president noted that given the scope of United States’ influence and power, global conflicts invariably necessitate U.S. involvement at some level. Because a certain former half-term governor isn’t very bright, Obama’s observation has become the subject of scrutiny.
But in those same presidential remarks, the preceding sentence also proved noteworthy, and arguably more significant.
Describing the Middle East peace process, Obama said, “[W]hat we can make sure of is, is that we are constantly present, constantly engaged, and setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts but it’s also in the interest of the United States.” He added that conflicts like the one between Israelis and Palestinians end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure”
In other words, developments in Israel necessarily help shape the security framework for the region, which in turn, shapes threats to the U.S.
This may not seem especially controversial, but it represents a subtle shift in the U.S. approach, and comes as a result of lengthy deliberations between Obama’s White House team and military leaders. Indeed, the president’s remarks “echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” who recently explained to Congress that “the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States” in the region.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was apparently outraged by the Obama/Petraeus position.
In a statement Thursday, Cantor said Obama had accused “Israel” of “significantly costing the U.S. in terms of both blood and treasure,” which is not what Obama had said.
Cantor went on to say that it was Palestinian refusal which is to blame for the unresolved Middle East dispute and accused the Obama administration of “manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world.”
Eric Cantor being deeply confused is nothing new.
But this latest flap is nevertheless a reminder of a larger trend — Obama and military leaders on one side, conservative Republicans on the other. From Iran to civilian trials to Gitmo to torture to how the U.S. perceives the Middle East peace process in the context of our national security interests, the president’s approach enjoys the backing of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs, and Petraeus, while Republicans are on a separate page altogether.
To be sure, that doesn’t mean Obama’s right and Republicans like Cantor are wrong. It is, however, a highly unusual dynamic in which the official GOP line deliberately rejects the judgment of the nation’s military leaders.