Why Obama's Choices in the Middle East Make Israel—and the Rest of Us—Paranoid
Dear Friend of FLAME:
In the face of the heated criticism Barack Obama drew because of his decision not to attack Syria, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow praised the President for his staunch aversion to using military force---in Syria specifically and around the world in general. But Maddow's pacifism is dangerously misguided.
On the one hand, of course, no U.S. president should be eager from bloodlust to initiate military action---our weapons are awe-inspiring killers, and U.S. soldiers inevitably also get killed in battle.
But on the other, the U.S. plays a unique and beneficial role in the world---that of the world's most powerful and responsible policeman. When the U.S. does not play that peacekeeping role, the world becomes a more malicious and deadly place for tens of millions of people. In fact, pacifism on the part of a U.S. president in the face of today's threats, particularly in the Middle East, is patently irresponsible.
The brilliant Hoover Institution scholar Fouad Ajami summed it up well: "We are war-weary, Mr. Obama intones repeatedly. He was elected to end wars, not to start them, the president reminds us. But none of our leaders---certainly not the ones who mattered, who answered the call of history---was elected to start wars."
Obama's problem is compounded, of course, because he made a bold statement about the "red line" related to Syria's use of chemical weapons. If the U.S. president draws a line in the sand, he'd better be ready to back it up, or the rest of the world begins to doubt his word.
Mr. Obama famously said he's not interested in scoring "style points" in the Syria matter, but rather in achieving results. But doing what you said you are going to do is not a question of style---U.S. credibility on the world stage is pure substance.
Israel, above all, has reason to worry about Obama's inconstancy and diminished authority. As commentator Shmuel Rosner observes, "Israel is paying and will yet pay a steep price for Obama's reluctance. After all, a weak cop is a breach in the wall, just asking criminals to come on in."
This week's FLAME Hotline article underscores the threat Mr. Obama has visited on Israel and the reasons Israel has every right to be paranoid. After all, the facts on the ground in today's Middle East compel every Israeli to be frightened and the government to mobilize. Indeed those facts should make each of us in the West paranoid as well. The world just became a bit less safe.
To understand why Israel should ratchet up preparations to protect its very existence, please review the short op-ed below, by Roger Boyes, diplomatic editor of The Times of London. Most importantly, Mr. Boyes challenges the U.S. president to stiffen his commitments to fighting evil and bringing order to impending Middle East chaos.
Please also pass this issue along to your friends, colleagues and fellow congregants---help us spread the word about America's relationship to Israel, to the Middle East and to the rest of the world.
Thanks for your support of FLAME and of Israel!
If Israel's paranoid, it has every reason to be
Roger Boyes,The Times of London, September 19, 2013
Across the Middle East today there is a sourness and a sense of abandonment because the old order has been broken and not replaced. It is Israel that feels the disappointment most strongly: the United States, a staunch protector since 1948, seems to be slipping away in its clumsy rush to disengage from the region.
The US-Russian deal to dismantle Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal has made the world more, not less, dangerous for Israel, introducing doubt into its US security guarantees, which until now have been the cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East. By blurring the red line on Syria's use of nerve gas, the Obama Administration has, from the Israeli perspective, hoisted a white flag. It makes no sense, says Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli intelligence minister, to pardon a murderer just because he has turned over his gun.
The Syrian agreement has sent a clear signal to Iran: the US will not engage in major military action against a country developing nuclear or chemical weapons, even if this stock poses a threat to an ally. This suggests the emergence of an Obama doctrine that hands over knotty problems to others and does not just accept the limits of American power, but surrenders it. Syria become a client state of Russia and ultimately a Russian, not an American, problem.
No wonder that the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is so keen to meet Mr. Obama this month. Tehran will simulate a readiness to cooperate on Syria while enriching yet more uranium, speeding up work on its heavy water reactor and soft-shuffling towards a bomb. Net result from the past fortnight of force-backed diplomacy: the arsonists, Moscow and Tehran, now run the fire brigade.
Israel is right to be worried. For sure, a Syria shorn of chemical weapons is a good thing for its southern neighbour. There is a legitimate fear, though, that barrels of chemicals could soon be heading for the Hezbollah militias in Lebanon before UN inspectors get to work. More disturbing, the Russians look set to link their role persuading Assad to declare his weapons with a broader push to get Israel to admit to its own nuclear programm. Moscow is arguing for a regional disarmament that could take in Israel — surely a step too far even for the Obama Administration.
US officials complain privately about Israel's lack of trust in Washington. By putting this on display, they say, Israel further undermines American credibility. Israelis themselves admit to chronic over-anxiety about Mr Obama but conclude that paranoia is to be in possession of all the facts. Fact 1: under a weakened Assad, Iranian tutelage over Syria is growing fast. Fact 2: Sinai is becoming dangerously radicalised. Fact 3: Hezbollah units are being strengthened by the Syrian crisis. Fact Four: The US is not helping significantly in any of these spheres, although they all directly threaten Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu will use a trip to the US this month to warn that the Syria formula— threat of force prompts disarmament—won't work when applied to Iran. Will President Obama listen? Almost certainly not. If Israel acts pre-emptively against Iran, it will be acting alone. That is the only sensible reading of US behaviour over the past two years.
Israel's military planners have been gaming such an attack and there have been unusually public spats about it; most generals seem to agree that it would not be simple without US firepower. Yet the Kremlin's enhanced role in the Middle East could well narrow the time frame for action. One trigger for an attack could be if Russia met Iran's request to supply sophisticated S-300 air defence systems. Once they were in place, the physical costs of an attack mounted by Israel alone would rise steeply.
For the Israeli political class an Iranian bomb remains an existential issue. With or without America it has to be stopped. Indeed Israel has been discussing comments by its air force chief Amir Eschel. which reflected how air power should be used in a moral cause. Since these were the public musings of the man who would plan a possible attack on Iran, they were delivered in code.
In the spring of 1944, he said, the Allies had achieved air supremacy over Auschwitz-Birkenau, they had accurate intelligence—and they knew that a trainload of Hungarian Jews was en route to the concentration camp. Politicians decided not to act. Not because they were anti-Semites but because, he said, it was "easier not to bomb than to bomb".
It is harsh to say Mr Obama has been taking the easy road in not striking Syria. Nothing in the Middle East has come easy to him. The region—and above all Israel—would like to know, however, where US policy is heading, because that part of the world has rarely seemed so precarious, so ready to slip into chaos.
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