Obama is not Bush

For weeks lovers of action from the school of George W Bush, John McCain and Israeli military affairs commentator Roni Daniel were anticipating and urging an American military strike, to teach Assad a lesson, and to show him who’s boss.

But President Obama is not President Bush, and after much uncertainty, it appears that the crisis around the Syrian chemical weapons is hopefully heading towards a diplomatic solution, which will include the destruction of the entire Syrian chemical arsenal, without firing a shot.

Results without the loss of lives

Much of the initial response from headline writers and commentators in the Israeli media was that Obama was a zigzagging, hesitant president, and that his lack of decisiveness projected American weaknesses.  Within days, this began to turn in the direction of a combination of relief combined with admiration for the way American democracy works, and the way that President Obama, with the aid of Russian President Putin, appeared to achieve the desired results without the loss of a single American soldier or of any other of the combatants and civilians in the Middle East.  And the average Israeli, who had been lining up to make sure that his/her family had enough gas masks available also breathed a sigh of relief.

It’s not coincidental that the majority of the American people have chosen Barack Obama as their president, twice.  Of course the economic meltdown presided over by his predecessor President Bush played a major role in that outcome.   But so did the Bush Presidency experience of “American exceptionalism” and “bringing democracy” to the Middle East.   At the cost of the lives of almost 5,000 American troops in Iraq and over 1,700 in Afghanistan.   Not to speak of the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, and the upsetting of the regional strategic alignment in favor of Iran.

We have now had a series of American president’s, beginning with President Clinton, who had no direct personal military experience.  The combat veterans like Bob Dole and John McCain did not make it.  Any Israeli who thinks that President Obama is afraid to use military force should hear some of the criticism leveled at him from the left in America, even within the Democratic Party – first on the increase in the level of American troops in Afghanistan before the withdrawal, then on to the military involvement in Libya with its very chaotic outcome, including the assassination of the American Ambassador, and on to the greatest use of on-manned drones for targeted assassinations.  And lets not forget the killing of Al-Queda head Osama bin Laden.

The Israeli mindset

Maybe one of the problems is the Israeli mindset of thinking that military action is the key to confronting problems.   There is no question given Israeli and Jewish history, a history of persecution and expulsion, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust and the cycle of Israeli-Arab wars, that it is vitally important for Israel to have a strong army to defend itself.  That’s why the army is called the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. However, military strength is not an all-purpose solution to problems.   On the contrary, in the final analysis we need to arrive at arrangements which will enable security and cooperation for all the peoples of the Middle East.  The Israeli-Egyptian and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties, and the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles of mutual recognition between the two national movements, are the first building blocks towards the construction of a regional regime of peace, security and cooperation in the Middle East.

Diplomacy, backed by a credible military threat

The fact that diplomacy appears to be on its way to resolving the crisis around Syria’s nuclear arsenal can also be a precedent for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well.

The Iranian people voted for the most pragmatic of the six presidential candidates in their recent elections, and President Rouhani has been sending out signals to President Obama and the West, about a readiness to arrive at an accommodation about their nuclear program, that definitely should be explored.

The next step would be to seriously exploit the opportunity created by the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, due to the determination of Secretary of State John Kerry, backed by President Obama.

If American led diplomacy, backed by a credible military threat, can produce results in Syria and also with the Iranian nuclear program, why not in the Israeli-Palestinian arena as well?

The post-Cold War era of America as the worlds’ cop is over, for good and for bad, and we now live in an era of the need for multilateral solutions to problems, and preferably diplomatic ones.




About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv