It’s bad enough when diplomatic–or undiplomatic–pressure forces a president to repudiate the position of any foreign relations officer, much less the Secretary of State, whose credibility is a very important asset. It’s vastly worse when the source of that pressure publicly gloats about it, in the context of events that are at the very center of the whole world’s attention right now.
But that’s what happened yesterday as Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert gave a speech boasting that he got President Bush dragged off a podium in Philadelphia and secured instructions to Condeleezza Rice ordering her to abstain from a UN resolution calling for an end to the conflict in Gaza that she had helped draft and publicly backed.
“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’ ” Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now,’ ” Mr. Olmert continued. “He got off the podium and spoke to me.”
Israel opposed the resolution, which called for a halt to the fighting in Gaza, because the government said it did not provide for Israel’s security. It passed 14 to 0, with the United States abstaining.
Mr. Olmert claimed that once he made his case to Mr. Bush, the president called Ms. Rice and told her to abstain. “She was left pretty embarrassed,” Mr. Olmert said, according to The A.P.
The State Department is claiming that Rice intended to abstain on the resolution all along, but that barely passes the laugh test.
When Barack Obama officially takes over his constitutional duties as president, two of his most urgent challenges will be to set an entirely new tone in foreign policy, and to exhibit real leadership in the Middle East. In pursuit of both challenges, let’s hope that he makes it abundantly clear from the get-go that the kind of public manipulation of the United States that Olmert engaged in will not be acceptable.
Maybe he won’t have to say a whole lot. I somehow don’t think that even an erratic and embattled lame-duck politician like Olmert would dare to try to yank the chain of Hillary Clinton, much less in public. You’d want to think real hard about the consequences.