Possible consequences of Obama’s choice

Possible consequences of Obama’s choice

One of the key developments for global politics in 2012 was U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement during the White House visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 5.

Obama’s message to Netanyahu was clear: 

- An Israeli attack against Iran would not bring down Iran; 

- An Israeli attack is not capable of stopping Iran’s nuclear program; 

- Israel should – because of the first two points – not only refrain from an attack which is not led by the U.S. but also stop talking about attacking Iran all the time since it raises oil prices and it is Iran who benefits from that as an oil exporter.

Those were probably not the words Netanyahu wanted to hear. If Netanyahu could have gotten limited support even for a limited strike on Iran, it could have been Netanyahu’s visa to go to an early election immediately as the hero punishing the Islamic republic with the ulterior motive of getting rid of his coalition partner, Yisrael Beiteinu (Homeland Israel), led by the current foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. (Netanyahu could also smooth things up with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the absence of Lieberman, which would be a boost for regional security.)

But as if that was not enough, the White House spokesman announced the next day that the U.S. had no plans for a military intervention against Syria; more diplomatic pressure would be put on Bashar al-Assad to deter him from attacking his own people envying other spring-struck Arab countries.

Russia’s support for the Syrian regime – which it has continued in order to avoid losing its last peg in the Mediterranean region (if EU-member Greek Cyprus are excluded) – played a role in the U.S. decision. Russia (and China) would obviously not permit a United Nations Security Council resolution leading to military action in Syria, and other important players in the Syrian theater, like Turkey and France, would not act either without a U.N. mandate.

But the more important reason for Obama’s choice was the U.S. presidential elections in November 2012.

Obama seemingly has the upper hand and is likely to get elected for a second term. It is not only because the Republicans have not been able to generate a charismatic name who could challenge Obama; it is partly also because Obama has managed to pass the health reform that he promised to voters and managed to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq that were sent there by the Republican administration (the plan for a withdrawal from Afghanistan is on its way).

In a new strategy, Obama is withdrawing from the old world and focusing on the Pacific region. Leaving a powerful toy to European allies like the Missile Shield system and aircraft carriers carrying special forces and unpiloted planes to hit wherever they want in a short period of time (and keep the Russians and Iranians busy), the U.S. is trying to get itself ready for the big competition with China.

Israel’s security is important for U.S. policies, and the Israeli lobby is important for Obama and any other candidate for U.S. presidency, and that’s why Obama will not tone down the pressure on Iran. But he is not going to get involved in any big military action unless he is really cornered by the time of the elections in November 2012.