Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obama's Moves


Watching Obama maneuvering the treacherous terrain of Middle East policy has been a pleasure. History will show that those who regarded him as a naive idealist did so at their peril. Netanyahu is slowly waking up to reality; others might do so too late and find themselves under the White House steamroller. The Obama administration is as serious about its ideals and goals as it is cunning about achieving them. 

The decision to start off by challenging Netanyahu on settlement construction was nothing short of brilliant. Simply put, Obama and America had nothing to lose by pressuring Bibi on this. No serious person in American politics would today sacrifice their credibility by arguing that Israel should be allowed to expand settlements as it sees fit. In the U.S., there is a small number of (mostly religious) American Jews who still believe in the enterprise, but they were against Obama from the beginning, and the delusions in which they have been living are now colliding with the hard facts. The only remotely palatable argument, voiced by Netanyahu's propagandists such as Charles Krauthammer, that Israel should at least be allowed to expand settlements in order to accommodate "natural growth" in these communities, is itself a huge concession. Moreover, it too has been rejected by the Americans. 

As other commentators have observed, the more Netanyahu and the Israeli lunatic fringe (like it or not, this is how policy makers in Washington view everyone right of Netanyahu) fight with Obama, the more pathetic and/or racist clamoring emanates from their midst, the more U.S. diplomats stand to gain in their negotiations with the Middle East's other regional powers and domestically. 
The strategy followed by the Obama administration vis-à-vis the Israeli-Arab conflict and the region is best described as Machievallian liberalism. Right now, he is trying to make the Israelis understand the limits of their power and to force them to make policy choices in response to these constraints. These constraints have in fact always existed, but in the past Israel benefited from subsidies of good will (on the part of the U.S.)  to overcome them. But over time, subsidies of this nature cause inefficiencies and distortions that become unsustainable. 

Now, for the first time in a while, Israeli leaders are being forced to act as consumers (and producers) in a free market, where prices reflect the supply and demand of political, military, and economic power. Unfortunately, the subvention of lunacy has rendered some groups in Israeli society extremely uncompetitive in the marketplace of political ideas and in the practice of power. The settlers, for example, who think Israel can do just fine without America, are suffering from delusions of grandeur typical of corporations who have benefited from state largesse for years. 

The new calculus is very simple. You want to keep building settlements? Pay for it. You want to waffle on a two-state solution? It will cost you. You want to be able to shape responses to the Iranian problem? Quid pro quo. 


zoh10 said...

I am not entirely convinced that it is only a small number of mostly religious jews support the settlement movement. If asked I would have estimated that most religious, and many (if not most) non religious jews are in favor of settlers (ex: probably all of the russian community). This is kind of important, since the way you presented it, it sounds like the settlement movement has no allies in America.

Nobody said...

This is a very good post. When you are talking about removing subsidies and forcing Israel into the free market, you mean the USA stopping to provide Israel with unconditional support in the UN and elsewhere?

I think the rules of the game are very clear. The new administration is both very idealistic and very determined. It thinks along the lines of the Saudi peace plan or something, at least along the lines of the two state solution. Those who dare to obstruct its plans will be punished. If Israelis ever felt like shutting up and doing what the US says, it's an excellent opportunity to start doing just this.

Abu Sa'ar said...

The new administration is indeed very idealistic and determined. BHO, alas, comes from an intellectual culture in which Israel is seen as an unfortunate mistake that should be rectified post haste. This is, most likely, influencing his attitude towards Israel.

Two state solution is not a solution, just a different method of conflict management. And the way our genocidal enemies and BHO want it done, it'll make Israel extremely vulnerable to terror and invasion, not to mention politically destabilized, economically in trouble and socially divided.

The market analogy is interesting, if, in my opinion, inappropriate. There is no market for political ideas, no supply and demand; only a market for power. It looks much more like BHO selling Israel out to the Arabs (which is exactly the way they viewed this, apparently); the forced clash with Bibi serves mostly to signal to the Arabs that USA no longer cares about their innumerable barbarities or terrorist spawning grounds.

Frankly, Obama administration seems to be all into making stuff look better for the next 4 years while ignoring the long-term consequences. Everything from the nationalisations to the runaway debt to dealing with evil regimes seems to be done with an "after us, the Deluge" mentality. And he can, by selling Israel out (as in no longer interfering but rather helping with Arab attempts to destroy us), create some dramatic and highly visible good will from the Arabs for a few years. The damage to Israel will be much less dramatic in the same period, and voters who are moved by such things will not be yet moved.

That's what happens when NB posts links to comment threads - Raccoons rant at them :)

Nobody said...

A rant it was indeed. Good that at least it came without the H-word

:D :D

Abu Sa'ar said...

NB - absolutely. But knowing the occasionally wild expressive style of procyon lotor, I am sure you can ignore the fluff and exaggerations :)


Holocaust!!!1! :)

Nobody said...

Oh my!!! The H-word !!! I guess now we are only minutes away from some really hardcore AS stuff


Amos said...

Thanks for all your comments, guys.

Zoh - not sure what you meant by "many." I would estimate that no more than 20% of American Jews support settlements. If we frame it slightly differently, and ask, how many American Jews OPPOSE U.S. demands to freeze settlement construction, I wonder if we would get a number higher than 15% of American Jews. My estimates are based on voting patterns and religious affiliation.

According to exit polls after the last U.S. presidential election, 77% of American Jews voted for Obama. How many of them would consider themselves supporters of the settlements? Even among those who voted for McCain, I am not sure if we could say that all of them "support" settlements. I would imagine that at least some of the haredi population is indifferent, at best.

According to a summer 2008 AJC annual survey of American Jews, 8% consider themselves Orthodox, 28% Conservative, 1% Reconstructionist, 30% Reform, 31% "Just Jewish," and 2% "not sure."

Raccoon - you're conflating the intellectual culture of American liberals with that of European leftists. Obama's sentiments and those of the people around him, many of whom are mainstream American (Zionist) Jews, are very different from those you describe. The idea that Israel was a mistake, which should be rectified, exists mostly among a small segment of radical American academics and jobless political activists. This does not describe Obama and his circle.

"Selling Israel out to the Arabs." I do not see how that is going on. I think this statement stems from the kind of sense of entitlement and delusion to which I alluded in my post.

As for the economic policies - this is a different discussion. If we're going to talk about runaway debt, I highly recommend a recent article in the NYT, "America’s Sea of Red Ink Was Years in the Making." I would also recommend Paul Krugman's column, "Reagan did it."

Nobody said...

By the way, Abu. I think you are absolutely wrong about this "after us, the Deluge" approach. Obama may well end creating a deluge, but this is certainly not his intention. I would say quite the opposite is the case. If anything it's the lack of attention to the details and short term stuff that may fail him, but not the lack of forward thinking.