Why is Obama tough on Israel and a wimp on Syria?Jackson Diehl doesn't really tell us why Barack Hussein Obama is so tough on Israel when he's such a wimp on Syria. Or does he?
What’s extraordinary about Obama’s initiative is not its details, which don’t differ meaningfully from the ideas of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or, for that matter, several of Netanyahu’s predecessors as prime minister. It is, rather, its superpower chutzpah — the brazen disregard for the views and political posture of this Israeli government, and the fecklessness and disarray of the current Palestinian leadership. Never mind, goes the implicit Euro-American line: We will make this happen.So why is Obama so tough on Israel and such a wimp when the subject is Syria (to use one prominent example)? There are a few reasons. First, because he can be. Israel really has no place else to turn in this world other than the United States, and Obama is cynically exploiting that dependence on America's good graces.
What could account for such an attitude, given the timorous approach to the rest of the region? Part of it is understandable frustration with years of Israeli-Palestinian impasse, which is magnified by the conviction in much of official Washington that the terms for peace are well known and widely accepted, and need only be implemented. Part is legitimate worry that the Israeli-
Palestinian front, though quiet now, could explode later this year after a United Nations vote, helping extremists in places such as Egypt. Yet the damage to U.S. interests from a U.N. resolution on Palestine would pale compared to the consequences of an Iranian-backed victory by Assad in Syria or the failure of NATO in Libya. Those crises have not moved Obama to lead.
There is, in his diplomacy, an implicit conviction that the United States must first of all deal with the sins of its own client. “Here are the facts we must all confront,” Obama declared in his speech to the AIPAC conference last month, before proceeding to deliver a lecture about Palestinian demography, Arab politics and the United Nations. It wasn’t that he was entirely wrong. But it’s revealing of this president that he is determined to speak truth to Binyamin Netanyahu — and not to Bashar al-Assad.
Second, because like most bullies, Obama is a coward at heart. He will only pick fights with people he thinks won't fight back, and not with the likes of Bashar al-Assad, who will murder a few hundred more people and tell Obama where to get off. Binyamin Netanyahu started to fight back against Obama last month, but Netanyahu is fighting with one hand tied behind his back by Israel's opposition.
Third, because the Israeli-'Palestinian' dispute is the only foreign policy issue about which Obama passionately cares. Obama is much more interested in doing things like socializing the United States' economy, and particularly its health care system, but when it comes to the Middle East, he has a legacy to which he must live up. That's why one of the first things he did upon taking office was to appoint a special Middle East envoy, and that's why Obama cannot get over his obsession with the 'Palestinians.' It's not so much that he cares about the Arabs, it's that he cannot abide the success of the Jews.
What could go wrong?