When someone tells you they have your back, what does that mean to you? Does it mean they will defend you against attack and fight by your side — or just that they appreciate the history of the friendship? Last week at AIPAC, Barack Obama told Israel that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back”:
Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.” That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. (Applause.) Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year. (Applause.) We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology — the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge — because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. (Applause.)
This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet. As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. And that’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others. (Applause.) Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles. Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.
And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. (Applause.) When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. (Applause.) When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. (Applause.)
When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them. (Applause.) When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. (Applause.) And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. (Applause.) So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back. (Applause.)
That was then, this is now. When ABC’s Jake Tapper asked Obama what specifically that meant in the context of the threat from Iran in yesterday’s press conference, suddenly Obama backtracked and insisted it wasn’t a “military doctrine”:
Q You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we’ve got Israel’s back. What does that mean?
THE PRESIDENT: What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies — just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan. And that broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we’ve done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel, that potentially land on schools or children or families. And we’re going to continue that unprecedented security — security commitment.
It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about, and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it. That’s a commitment we’ve made.
Well, until recently, the US did have at least an unofficial military doctrine of “having Israel’s back,” making it clear that the US would intervene in any major-scale attack on Israel. Obama specifically offered the “I have Israel’s back” to claim that he was ready to defend Israel in every way, not just diplomatically, which is clear from the context of his remarks to AIPAC — and a political claim intended to push back against the argument that Obama has damaged the US-Israeli partnership. It took only two short days to go from having Israel’s back to merely “caring deeply” about Israel’s security.
Rick Klein originally noted the, er, backslide on Twitter, to which I replied, “If “I have your back” is not a military doctrine, what is it? A sunscreen-lotion policy?” Sounds more like a splash of misdirection.
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