Thursday, April 12, 2012

Does Israel Have Reason To Fear A Second Obama Term?

According to popular legend, an American president, unshackled by the politics of reelection, is more willing and able to do forceful Arab-Israeli diplomacy (read: pressure on Israel) during a second term. Over the years, this notion and its rallying cry ("Wait until after November") has encouraged and sustained the hopes, dreams, and fears (in some cases) of Americans, Israelis, Arabs, Palestinians, assorted Europeans, and anyone else frustrated by the lack of progress and persuaded that domestic politics is the albatross around the president's neck.
Aaron David Miller


But according to Aaron David Miller, this whole idea of a second term President who is free of the constraints of the popular will of the people--and the Jewish vote--is but a myth.

Miller cites the first terms of Presidents Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush--but since they were all one term presidents, who were tough on Israel. Of course, since none of them made it to a second term, they are irrelevant to the argument.

Miller goes on to cite exceptions to his claim:

  • During his second term, Nixon was tough on Israel, pushing two Arab-Israeli disengagement agreements in 18 months, from 1973 to 1974--but that doesn't count, according to Miller, because the 1973 War created the circumstances.

  • During Reagan's term, in 1988, Secretary of State George Shultz pushed a peace initiative. Miller assures us that this does not qualify as "forceful" and therefore does not count. And even though Shultz helped engineer recognition of the PLO--that is only because Yasser Arafat met U.S. conditions. Miller does not describe just how demanding those conditions were.

  • You may ask: what about Clinton's diplomatic efforts during his second term at Camp David? Nope: that doesn't count either. Those talks don't qualify (according to Miller) as "tough and determined" and were not intended to apply pressure to Israel. Apparently somebody forget to tell that to Ehud Barak. The talks were only intended to pressure the Palestinians.
Thus,
The fact is, there's just no historical basis to the proposition of an empowered second-term president getting tough on Arab-Israeli peacemaking or pushing the Israelis around.
Aaron David Miller goes one step further, claiming that even if Obama got it into his head to push on peace talks, besides Iran there are "3 challenges impede a two state solution:
  • "an Israeli prime minister who's very far from either Obama's or the Palestinian position on a deal" (Miller seems to forget that it is Abbas, not Netanyahu, who refuses to sit down to peace talks)
  • a divided Palestinian national movement (Miller is being generous--to Hamas, whose idea of nationalism is firing rockets at civilians and to the PA, whose leaders Abbas and Fayad hold office illegally
  • and the uncertainties of an Arab Spring that will further limit Israel's flexibility
Besides, Miller assures us, although Obama wants to resolve the Israel-Palestinian situation, wants to get tough and blames Netanyahu for the failure, the bottom line is:
At the same time, Obama has proven himself to be a cautious, pragmatic, and deliberate man. Like FDR, he wanted to be a transformative political figure and alter the trajectory of American domestic and foreign policy. But his nature is more the transactor and the dealmaker. That's who he is.

...Obama lacks FDR's partisan toughness and fight; public anger doesn't come naturally, nor does going for the jugular. Instead, he's a compromiser always looking for middle ground and balance, even when it seems naive. That's where his vision of the truth (and solutions) lie.
I'm not sure if Miller has been following the news about Obama's economic and domestic policies over the past 3 and a half years--or if he has even taken into account Obama's hot-mic episodes and extent of his bad feelings towards Netanyahu and the public pressure Obama has applied to Israel.

The clincher for Miller is the goal line of every presidency: how they will be remembered:
Remember, for a two-term president, legacy cuts both ways: You want to be remembered as the hero, not the goat, and that means leaving a vapor trail of kudos, not stumbles, let alone outright failures. And going all out on Arab-Israeli peace when the conditions just aren't there has failure written all over it.
Miller believes that Obama will be perceived as a lame duck and will be ignored by Arabs and Israelis according--the fact that Abbas has felt free to ignore overtures to come to the peace table of course has had nothing to do with lameness, at least not the kind Miller is referring to.

The bottom line is that Miller's perceptions throughout this article are debatable at the very least--and his perception of Obama itself seems more than a little subjective.

Taking Miller's arguments--the exceptions to his rule as well as the nature of Obama and his presidency, one comes up with excellent reasons to fear the dangers of a second Obama term as president.

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