Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.
MATT LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yesterday, the ICC made its decision that there was no case to prosecute for war crimes in Gaza. But also yesterday – and you spoke about that very briefly here. But also yesterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war. And I’m puzzled, because I thought it was the position of the Administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its – what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3rd, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling.” And that was some pretty fierce criticism. How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT: No, that is the position of the Administration; it remains the position of the Administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear, as you noted in the statement you pointed to, that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held their selves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.
LEE: Okay. But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a bit about how military operations work, I would venture to guess; I don’t know him, but I assume that he wouldn’t be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if he was – if he didn’t –
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
LEE: — says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit the collateral damage.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.
This stand tells us two things about the Obama administration.
The first is that facts played no part in its attacks on Israel at a time when thousands of rockets were raining down on Israeli cities and terrorists were using tunnels to cross the border to attempt kidnappings and murders of Jews. Hamas did its best to hide behind civilians in Gaza, something that was aided and abetted by an international press corps that was either too intimidated by the Islamists to report on their activities or to shoot videos of photos of armed terrorists or missile launches. But, as Dempsey rightly concluded, the Israelis were cautious about firing at positions embedded among civilians and adopted various strategies to keep collateral damage to a minimum. The fact that the U.S. Armed Forces sent a delegation to learn about the Israel Defense Forces’ policies so as to help Americans to improve their own record speaks volumes about the Pentagon’s views about criticisms of the Israelis.
Yet the State Department and the White House both sought to hammer the Israelis for every incident in which civilians were killed. The fact that the Israelis were every bit if not more scrupulous about this concern than American forces operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria is not in dispute, certainly not by their U.S. commander.
The reason for these criticisms, which continue despite being contradicted by Dempsey, has to do with politics, not the ethics of war. The president and his foreign-policy team are determined to besmirch Israel and undermine its democratically elected government no matter what the circumstances. If the allegations are not supported by the facts, that doesn’t deter Psaki and her masters from continuing their broadsides since the objective is not to actually change the policies of the Israel Defense Forces. It is to pressure the Jewish state’s government to forgo the right of self-defense that she says the U.S. supports and to make concessions to the Palestinians that would make another round of even deadlier violence even more likely.
The second thing this bizarre clinging to discredited positions tells us is that there is little respect for military realities or the opinions of the country’s military professionals within the Obama administration. This has been reflected in the president consistently ignoring their advice in abandoning Iraq and planning to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as to his insistence on the idea that scattered bombing will stop ISIS.
Such a disconnect between the military and the administration is forgivable in peacetime. Though he has sought to flee from it, Obama is a wartime president. But, as this episode reveals, the war he prefers to fight is the political one against Israel, not the real one Islamists are waging against the United States and its allies.