…[Y]esterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war. And I’m puzzled because I thought it was the position of the administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its –what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling.” And that was some fierce criticism. How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?
To which Ms. Psaki responded:
No, that is the position of the administration; it remains the position of the administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear…that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held themselves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.
The following colloquy then ensued:
LEE: Okay, But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a little about how military operations work…PSAKI: Correct.
LEE: [General Dempsey] says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit collateral damage.
PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.
So far as we know, the administration still believes Israel was seriously delinquent in seeking to keep civilian deaths in Gaza at a minimum, notwithstanding what the highest ranking American military official believes to be the case. When the time for critical pushback against the UN Human Rights Council comes, will President Obama go with the facts, or will he make a calculated decision to distance the administration from Israel, as Mr. Earnest, Ms. Psaki, and other administration spokespeople suggested three months ago might be the case?