Why ChickenshitGate Matters

The talk of Washington, DC for the last twenty-four hours has been the sensational piece by The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, which pronounces, “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is Officially Here.” The title may have been true when Goldberg’s piece appeared; it’s definitely true now, as its impact has been felt far and wide.

Goldberg, a supporter of Israel who has asked important questions about that country’s policies, got several White House officials to share their disgust and contempt for the Israelis, especially Prime Minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who clearly is the bête noire of the West Wing. Among the insults shared with Goldberg include the view that Bibi is many bad things, as the piece notes:

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.”

That’s right, a “senior administration official” said that. Which, if you understand DC journalist-speak, leaves a short list of suspects. In diplomatic terms, this is the equivalent of giving a wedgie to a close ally, and is conduct beneath banana republics, much less a great power. But this is exactly the sort of petulant, faux-macho acting out I’ve come to expect from Obama’s profoundly dysfunctional National Security Council.

The irony here is that I’m anything but an uncritical supporter of Israel, and I’ve been sharply critical of Netanyahu, whose policies seem to be leading Israel down a dangerous road in the long run. On settlements, Bibi is playing with fire. Moreover, Netanyahu indeed has acted out against the Obama administration. But, instead of dealing with that in a constructive fashion — tough diplomacy, back-channel wrangling — we get “chickenshit.”

There’s no small irony there since Bibi, whatever his many shortcomings — I would include short-term thinking, cynicism, and sometimes outright mendacity — is anything but a chickenshit, having served as a decorated officer with Sayeret Mat’kal, Israel’s top special operations unit, equivalent to Delta Force or Seal Team Six. Bizarrely, White House officials signaled to Goldberg that they think Bibi is basically a wimp, all talk and no action, who’s afraid to actually bomb Iran. Why on earth the White House wants that message out there, in the middle of negotiations with Tehran, I simply cannot fathom.

Predictably, this juvenile West Wing outburst has had exactly the opposite effect the administration wanted, as it has bolstered Bibi at home as someone who stands up to Obama, who is frankly hated by a majority of Israelis. As explained by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister and a rising star on the Right, this outburst is “an insult not just to [Netanyahu] but to the millions of Israeli citizens and Jews across the globe.” Now Bibi can wait out the Obama administration on settlements and look like a national hero, rather than an obstructionist, by doing so.

The worst aspect of ChickenshitGate is how it confirms the belief, held by many on the Right, that Obama likes to kiss our enemies while kicking our friends. It is surely notable that we have not heard similar derogatory language said to reporters about our actual enemies. Moreover, dropping this needless error shortly before midterm elections that Democrats are already facing with trepidation is nothing short of inexplicable. But I find an increasing number of decisions made by the Obama White House fall short of basic political sense and logic. Obama’s is far from the first U.S. administration to find dealings with the Israelis exasperating, but it is the first to tell the media that Israel’s leader is a “chickenshit.” This is one for the history books.

Precedents for this sort of public badmouthing of close allies are hard to find. A certain parallel can be found in the bad feelings between President Richard Nixon and Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, between whom there was little love lost. The differed on ideology plus lots of hot-button issues like U.S. draft-dodgers in Canada and knotty trade problems. In 1971, in exasperation, Nixon referred to the leader of our closest ally as “an asshole,” “pompous egghead” and “a son of a bitch.” Please note these were private utterances, not within earshot of any media. But Trudeau was a political pro, and sometimes a class act, and when he learned of this, he explained, “I’ve been called worse things by better people,” and the leaders patched up their differences.

The Obama administration at a high level lacks the restraint to keep their anger at allies to themselves, neither do I expect Netanyahu to show the magnanimous spirit that Trudeau did. Given the extent of the crisis unfolding across the Middle East, between Syria, Iraq, and turmoil of many kinds, to say nothing of the open intelligence alliance just inked between Moscow and Tehran, it would be good for America and Israel to patch up their differences as soon as possible. ChickenshitGate will make that more difficult, needlessly. For a White House that claims its foreign policy doctrine amounts to “don’t do stupid shit,” this is worse than a disappointment.


32 comments on “Why ChickenshitGate Matters”
  1. mattw0699 says:

    If Netanyahu were on the fence about attacking Iran, then I think he just got pushed onto the attack side. 2015 could be a game-changer.

  2. carl says:

    We are in a race between some irrecoverable foreign policy disaster and Jan 20, 2017. There is nothing, nothing that will reform the current administration. We must wait for a new one. It is not an encouraging thing.

  3. Airwalk says:

    “ChickenshitGate” this is hilarious – thanks a bunch John! Your articles are always “good shit” though ;-). And yes the US and Israel should gear up and get their shit together because of this Russian-Iranian “thing”. I have to admit: the Persians and their “T’aarof” always brings them far and they learned also from the Chinese: “Use Barbarians against Barbarians” (read: Intell alliance with the Russians so to use the Russians against the U.S.).

  4. adz5A says:

    I am a fond follower of both your blog and your twitter account and I very much like your articles in which I learned much.
    Is there not a confusion between Benyamin Netabyahou and his late brother Yonatan who, according to wikipedia effectively ran Israeli SF and died liberating hostages from terrorists ?

    Thanks for your articles and have a good day.

    1. 20committee says:

      Brothers Bibi and Yoni served in SAYERET MAT’KAL — the latter was the unit CO killed at Entebbe in 1976. Cheers!

  5. Blackshoe says:

    The Obama administration so often reminds me of Antony Beevor’s quote of Duff Cooper on Neville Chamberlain:

    “Neville Chamberlain’s view of the world was largely shaped by his experience as a successful mayor of Birmingham. As Churchill’s ally Duff Cooper commented, Chamberlain “had never met anyone in Birmingham who in the least resembled Adolf Hitler . . . Nobody in Birmingham had ever broken his promises to the mayor.”

    These are the kinds of things that happen when the Boss frames international affairs and diplomacy from his experiences in Chicago politics.

    1. Alex says:

      I like the Churchill quote but I’d actually apply it to Netanyahu rather than Obama. The anonymous Obama Admin official(s) said that Natanyahu behaves like the mayor of Jerusalem rather than the PM of Israel, meaning that he cares about securing his tightening voting bloc for reelection rather than about Israel’s national security vis a vis the Iranian nuclear program. This assessment was proven right in Netanyahu’s response to the “chickenshit” comment, where he focused more on a “united Jerusalem” than on anything else. Netanyahu was glad to trust the hostile and dishonest Sec of State Kerry in the 6 or 7 consecutive ceasefire negotiations this Summer in Gaza, despite HAMAS breaking every one of them almost immediately. To be clear, I’m not comparing Obama or Kerry to Hitler, only Netanyahu to Chamberlain. Actually, I’d compare Obama to Chamberlain too for his incredibly lax negotiating terms with Iran, which could legitimately be compared to Hitler. The Obama-Netanyahu relationship is analogous to Chamberlain meeting his slightly more macho twin.

  6. Ihor Molodecky says:

    Reading Goldberg’s article it seems that the namecalling and disdain is coming equally from both sides. Namecalling does not policy make. Sure..it makes things more difficult but it has taken serious national policy differences for things to get to this point. For his part Goldberg makes it clear that Israel has not been blameless in the deterioration of relations. The concern there is that the US Administration will get back at Israel by withdrawing support at the united Nations. Perhaps that’s why Israel is making nice with Putin all of a sudden? Abraham Foxman sums up his take on the administration’s attitude ” The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel” Some changes are in the wind.

    Your comments on the Nixon /Trudeau exchange take us back quite a while. Those were such different times. Trudeau was a very charismatic man , born into weath , to whom confidence and a well turned phrase came easily. I gather your former president was none of the above. Trudeau was also personally on friendly terms with Castro and had visited China in his youth. If they had not been leaders of neighbouring nations, it is very unlikely that they would have ever met socially. However Trudeau had a ruthless side. When a couple of government officials were kidnapped and one subsequently killed by the FLQ he declared The War Measures Act which suspended civil rights including the detention without charge of many people who in the end were determined to be totally innocent. If this had happened in your country, I’m sure that you would have had an armed revolt.

    I haven’t heard our two present leaders calling each other names, but then I cannot see Harper and Obama ever being friends. Almost funny that lately the Repulican party has really taken a liking to our Prime Minister. If he lived south of the border ….maybe he would be their next nominee. LOL

  7. Alex says:

    The most important irony of this scandal–which I have not seen noted yet–is that the Obama Administration is here criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu for intransigence by labeling him a coward. Intransigence and cowardice are contradictory temperaments.

    I would propose that there is a hidden coherence behind this seemingly paradoxical rhetoric, because:

    a) the unnamed Obama Administration official who called Netanyahu a “chickenshit” is right: even though Netanyahu, as Prof. Schindler cites, was a member of Sayeret Matkal, the special forces with the highest tolerance for risk of any, Netanyahu has not attacked Iran. I doubt that historians of war could find many examples of one country ever having had a greater or more longstanding casus belli to declare war against another than Israel holds toward Iran (Iranian proxy targeting of Israelis around the world and inside Israel, nuclear and missile development, incitement, etc … ).


    b) President Obama himself, along with Sec. of State Kerry, have themselves displayed cowardice in a very specific way directly relevant to the Obama Admin’s dealings with Netanyahu and his government: in at least two important instances when there has been a crisis not involving Israel, Obama Admin officials acted toward Israel with sudden harshness that I see as more revealing than surprising: John Kerry followed the Russian/Ukranian downing of a Malaysian passenger jet with a closure of flights to Ben Gurion Airport, and the latest “chickenshit” comments come after former Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi effectively called Obama a “chickenshit (http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/10/iran-has-obamas-number.php).”

    I am not a psychologist, but the Freudian defense mechanism of “projection” works well here. So does an accusation of antisemitism, even if Obama and his cabinet do not believe in traditional stereotypes of Jews as money-grubbing, ritual sacrificers of Christian children to make Passover matzo.

  8. Anna says:

    To me it’s all perfectly logical

    People who think it’s smart to refer to “not doing stupid shit” as policy are exactly the sort of people who will describe counterparts as ‘chickenshit’

    It’s almost like the outfit is run by undergrad international relations students with a smidgen of student Union thrown in

    Oh wait
    We are doomed aren’t we

    1. 20committee says:

      Enjoy the decline 🙂

  9. Pingback: - RadioMetafora.ro
  10. Mark McDonald says:

    Bibi warns the United States. Bibi tells the United States, I told you so. Bibi goes out of his way to insult the President. As explained in reverse by Naftali Bennett, Bibi is an insult to not just the President but the entire population of the United States of America. Bibi supports a one state solution that guarantees continued destruction and death on BOTH sides. Bibi is chickenshit!

    1. 20committee says:

      Never lose your passion!

  11. redmanrt says:

    I defecate on all anti-Zionists.

    Never forget, never again.

  12. Mobius Dumpling says:

    I’m Israeli, and I can tell you that Obama is indeed widely hated in Israel, but so is Netanyahu. Many vote for him because they have no good alternative, but they despise him. And, indeed, there is wide consensus in the Israeli public that he is indeed chickenshit: it’s a very apt description, in fact. Yes, in his youth, he was an Israeli commando. Decades have passed since then. He because weak due to obligations to the rich, due to having to deflect public scorn for the last 20 years, and most of all due to his wife, who, it is widely suspected. is the dominatrix to his submissiveness. So, no, chickenshitgate did not cause Israelis to get behind Bibi. Quite the contrary, it made Israelis realize that we’re at such a low point with the Americans that they go on the record saying something that is out in the open, but is not much discussed.

    1. 20committee says:

      I am well aware of Bibi’s, ahem, woman problems, thanks. 🙂

      My friends in Israel, TZAHAL & intel types – most of whom frankly loathe Bibi – say differently from you on this, but we shall see, won’t we?

  13. USJ says:

    The simple fact is that Bibi is a leader and Barack a clueless idealog.
    The American public have a higher opinion of Netanyahu than of Obama.
    I will never be ashamed to be an American. I am deeply ashamed of our president.

    1. Mark McDonald says:

      Current Obama approval rating per Washington Post and CBS News is 39%. Current Bibi approval rating per Jerusalem Post and Smith Research is 38%. I doubt >40% of Americans even know who Bibi is. Was anyone surprised or immediately offended when Bibi was labeled a chickenshit? I bet very few. In private Bibi probably laughed it off. He knows who he is.

      The worst conflict in history between our two countries is being created by Bibi’s personality and lack of sound leadership. Polls don’t lie. Nether leader is popular. The United States of America is MORE than happy to help our friends in Israel but we should NOT be forced to tolerate the disrespectful and chickenshit behavior of their leader.

  14. Guns says:

    “Precedents for this sort of public badmouthing of close allies are hard to find” ??

    What about James Baker, George Bush senior’s seretary of state and his remark:
    “F..k the jews! They won’t vote for us, anyway…”

    1. 20committee says:

      Secretary Baker was speaking about American Jews, who are not an ally, they are citizens of this country. A comment on domestic politics only, not diplomacy.

    1. 20committee says:

      Of course he does.

Comments are closed.