As the violence in Israel continues to escalate, and the public recoils in horror at report after report of innocent Palestinian children being killed in Israeli military strikes, the White House has carefully danced on a bed of the softest eggshells in urging restraint from both sides.
Over the weekend, the administration danced a little harder, as Secretary of State John Kerry was overheard sarcastically rebuking the idea of a “pinpoint operation” that’s killing many more civilians than Hamas fighters, and on Monday morning, President Obama stressed the civilian casualties, while continuously reinforcing Israel’s right to defend itself, and sticking as closely as possible to the “both sides” construct:
“I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”
At Monday’s White House briefing, though, Press Secretary Josh Earnest came as close as the Obama administration has gotten to a denunciation of the killings. Reuters’ Jeff Mason said that President Obama and Sec. Kerry “appear to be fed up with Israel over the number of civilian casualties in Gaza,” and asked if it’s fair to say that the President is “losing patience over this.”
Earnest, while ladling on copious amounts of Israel’s Right To Defend Itself, nonetheless seemed to acknowledge that they’re maybe not doing quite enough, possibly:
“The Israelis say that they uphold high standards in terms of ensuring that those operations take into account the safety and well-being of innocent civilians. What this escaltion in violence makes clear is that Israel must take greater steps to meet its own standards for protecting civilians from being killed.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta followed up by observing that it sounds like the administration thinks Israel “is going a little overboard” with its current ground offensive, which gave earnest an opportunity to temper his remarks somewhat, clarifying that Israel has the right to defend itself, and that while Hamas intentionally targets civilians, Israel tries hard not to kill civilians, and needs only to “take even greater steps” than the apparently still great ones they’re taking already.
While a certain amount of this ultra-cautious reproof of Israel is due to legitimate sensitivity toward the important relationship between the nations, and to the ever-present threats that Israel faces throughout the region, the United States has also long been invested in the myth of “surgical war,” the idea that smart bombs and drones can excise the terrorist scum of the world while leaving everyone else neatly intact. When we point the finger at Israel, there are hundreds of thousands of fingers pointing back at us.