The Spectacle Blog

If Obama is Re-Elected, Relations With Israel Could Get Worse

By on 11.17.11 | 4:15PM

Aaron David Miller, a veteran of Israeli-Arab diplomacy during the Clinton and Bush fils administrations, analyzes the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Looking back at previous periods of US-Israeli tension during the Ford, Carter, and Bush père administrations, Miller writes:

But President Obama's Bibi problem is different in several respects from his predecessors -- a fact that all but guarantees that tensions with the Israelis on this issue are not going to subside anytime soon. The 2012 election has kept them in a box. Indeed, the president's speech at the U.N. General Assembly last month notwithstanding -- more a campaign speech than one that addressed the Israeli-Palestinian issue -- if Obama is re-elected, buckle your seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride with the Israelis.

Among the differences, Miller argues, are that previous administrations had a strategy during periods of friction with their Israeli counterparts, which led to diplomatically productive outcomes, and that previous administrations had established a modicum of trust with their Israeli counterparts; neither of those things are really true with Obama. And one more difference:

Finally, there's the president himself, who clearly believes he knows best how to run the peace process. Obama doesn't just have a Bibi problem, he's got an Israel problem. Obama is not anti-Israel, but unlike his two predecessors -- Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- he's not in love with the idea of Israel.

He falls somewhere north of Jimmy Carter on the pro-Israel spectrum and south of George H.W. Bush.

I wonder if Obama might fall even further south on that spectrum in a second term. Consider that Dennis Ross (who Miller worked with during the Clinton years) is leaving the administration at the end of this year. Ross has provided a pro-Israel prospective within the administration, and has seemed isolated at times. This Politico item from last year gives a taste:

Sources say within the interagency process, White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is staking out a position that Washington needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu's domestic political constraints including over the issue of building in East Jerusalem in order to not raise new Arab demands, while other officials including some aligned with Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell are arguing Washington needs to hold firm in pressing Netanyahu...

"He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests," one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. "And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this administration."

What some saw as the suggestion of dual loyalties shows how heated the debate has become.

That the sort of people who might leak that anonymous quote might have unchecked influence in a second Obama term is not a comforting thought. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (where Ross will return after leaving the administration) just released a paper by Robert Blackwill and Walter B. Slocombe on the many underappreciated strategic benefits of the alliance with Israel; here's a good summary by Lee Smith of the findings and their significance given the authors' worldviews. Blackwill and Slocombe conclude that "''U.S. national interests' deserve equal billing with 'shared values' and 'moral responsibility' as fundamental rationales for the bilateral relationship." If Obama is re-elected, will there be anyone left in his administration who understands that?

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