Friday, March 19, 2010

This administration is pushing hard for a fundamental realignment in Mid-East politics. After Biden's harsh, but somewhat understandable rebuke for Israel's announcement of construction in Jerusalem, the Obama administration just wouldn't let go, with Clinton and even David Axelrod piling on after Israel's public apology. This incident is strange, not just because of the surprising strong language coming from the Obama administration, because East Jerusalem was explicitly excluded from a significant agreement the had been widely praised by this White House just a couple of months ago. Unfortunately for Israel, the Obama administration continues to raise the stakes:
In 2008, the United States approved an Israeli request for bunker-busters capable of destroying underground facilities, including Iranian nuclear weapons sites. Officials said delivery of the weapons was held up by the administration of President Barack Obama.

Since taking office, Obama has refused to approve any major Israeli requests for U.S. weapons platforms or advanced systems. Officials said this included proposed Israeli procurement of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, refueling systems, advanced munitions and data on a stealth variant of the F-15E.

"All signs indicate that this will continue in 2010," a congressional source familiar with the Israeli military requests said. "This is really an embargo, but nobody talks about it publicly."

Not quite enough, Washington announces that the previous concessions from Israel are now insufficient by demanding an end to building in Jerusalem. As Max Boot pointed out even before the latest developments:
Two press leaks may illuminate administration thinking. First, in July 2009, President Obama reportedly told Jewish leaders at the White House that it was important to put some "space" between the U.S. and Israel to "change the way the Arabs see us." Then an Israeli newspaper claimed that in a private meeting, Biden told Netanyahu that Israeli settlements were "dangerous for us": "What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace."

This is of course a dramatic shift which borders on outright hostility to our erstwhile ally. One that may result in the US losing its leadership position in much of the Middle East:
The White House's response, they argue, sends a strong message that Washington won't be bullied. In the Middle East, however, there is nothing that reeks so much of weakness as beating up on an ally in public. Moreover, this tongue-lashing comes shortly after the White House swallowed the open taunts of its adversaries...

Of course, really effective deterrence would require us to make sure that our Israeli allies were perceived as highly volatile and unpredictable actors who might just take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran's nuclear sites. That scenario would have a better chance of cornering Iran and its allies, compelling them to seek relief from us, the rational senior partner. Instead, we've just pulled off the strategic equivalent of beating our pit bull on a street corner to show the neighborhood tough guys that we mean business.

President Obama is not intentionally trying to sacrifice our position in the energy-rich and strategically vital Middle East, but his policies may well lead to that. Strategic realignment doesn't just mean that Washington gets to trade in one set of allies for another. It means that the American order of the region will be superseded by a new order in which we will play a secondary role at best.
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