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Op-Ed: Obama's Walter Cronkite Moment

Obama's policies, Israel's actions and Middle America.
Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 6:34 AM


President Lyndon B. Johnson knew the Vietnam War was a lost cause when Walter Cronkite, America's most respected television news anchor, turned against it--symbolizing, for Johnson, that a large portion of the American public had likewise turned negative.

President Barack Obama may have just had his own "Walter Cronkite Moment," involving the Gaza War and the Washington Post.

The date was February 27, 1968. Cronkite, the anchor of the CBS Nightly News, was the most-watched, and most-admired newsman in America. He concluded an update on the Vietnam situation by declaring his opinion that "we are mired in stalemate…it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could." Cronkite's message was crystal clear: America could not win, and therefore should negotiate its withdrawal from the region.

President Johnson, who was watching the broadcast live in the White House, reportedly said to his aides, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Without "Middle America"--without broad public support--Johnson could not prosecute the war successfully. The handwriting was on the wall for America's defeat in Vietnam, because no democratic country can long wage war if most of its public opposes it.

Barack Obama's Walter Cronkite Moment has been provided by the Washington Post, the “nerve center” of the nation’s capital. 

In two remarkable lead editorials, less than a week apart, the Post has come down squarely for the policies of Israel’s prime minister, and against the Obama administration, in the Gaza war.

On July 18, the lead, unsigned editorial in the Post focused on Hamas's vast network of tunnels, which it noted "have only one conceivable purpose: to launch attacks inside Israel." It condemned "the outside world" (implicitly including much of the news media) for wrongly "blam[ing] Israel for the civilian casualties it inflicts while attempting to destroy the tunnels," pointing out that Hamas deliberately built the tunnels under homes, mosques, schools and hospitals.


The only time Obama or Kerry mention disarming is in the context of some vague, distant goal that would be part of a complete solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In two important respects, the Post took issue with the Obama administration's positions.

First, the Post warned that the Hamas demand (endorsed by the Obama administration) to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza "would allow Hamas to import more missiles and concrete for new tunnels."

Second, the Post urged that any concessions to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority must be linked to "the disarmament of Hamas."

Six days later, the Post presented Obama's Cronkite Moment, Part 2. In its lead, unsigned editorial on July 30, the Post asserted that Israel has "good reason" to have rejected Secretary Kerry's recent ceasefire plan. The Obama administration has only "rhetorically endorsed" the Israeli demand for disarming Hamas, the Post pointed out. The administration "doesn't seem to regard [disarmament] as feasible in the short term."

Exactly right. The only time Obama or Kerry mention disarming is in the context of some vague, distant goal that would be part of a complete solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Taking Israel's side, the Post argued that the disarming of Hamas needs to take place now, not later. It suggested a trade of "steps that would enable Gaza's economic development" in exchange for "Hamas's surrendering of its missiles."

The publication of these two editorials, by a newspaper never known to be particularly supportive of Israel, is a groundbreaking development. It demonstrates to the Obama administration that a significant portion of elite Washington opinion sides with Israel in this conflict, not Hamas.

Coming on the heels of polls showing the majority of Americans supporting Israel, and strong pro-Israel statements from leading Democratic congressmen, Obama must now face political reality: not only Republicans, but many Democrats, including key opinion-shapers such as the Post, want to see Israel victorious and Hamas defeated and disarmed.

When it comes to Israel and Hamas, Obama has not only lost "Middle America" (President Johnson's term) but most of America. And a foreign policy position that most Americans so strongly oppose is simply not sustainable.

[Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America. This article is part of a series