The Tower of Babel, Iran and Syria

While the White House is apparently favoring diplomacy over any other form of action with Iran and Syria, it is evident that there is a Tower of Babel. The American President and his appointed executives are going in one direction while the American population are going in another. Public opinion polls show that the American public is not supportive of the President’s diplomatic activities over that of other options. Polls of American public opinion (YouGov) also show that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was most effective during the Syrian chemical weapons crises at 49% while President Barack Obama only received 25% of the American public support. Similarly 76% of Americans believe that President Obama should take a neutral stance to Iran’s nuclear program.

Not supporting the American President is not to say that the American population don’t support Israel. It is to say that the American President is not enjoying popular support from his own population including decisions that involve Israel’s future. The facts and figures are that the American population support Israel at 64% (Gallup) compared to Arab states. This support is not restricted to solely the Jewish community. Such support is nonpartisan, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans consistently favoring Israel by large margins over any of Israel’s adversaries. Some 75% of respondents see Israel as a “close ally” or as a “friendly/not close ally”. The President should be aware of these facts and figures because his party, the Democrats, hope to win mid-term Congressional elections in November 2014 and indeed the Presidency in November 2016, even if cannot stand for another term.

Although President Obama may expect his diplomacy to succeed, the American population are skeptical. The polls show that the American public don’t trust the Syrian government’s intentions; in fact 77% (YouGov) believe that Syria is unreliable. So the President may wish to consider this when making deals on how the chemical weapons of Israel’s neighbors are destroyed and when making deals with Iran. As winter sets in Washington, the President’s overall approval rating remains low. It remains just above the all-time low for this President (36% in mid-2011); where this week only 38% approve of the way the President is handling his job; 55% disapprove.

In the babble and blether is Israeli public opinion. In response to the question, “Can Israel rely on the United States to ensure Israel’s security in the negotiations with Iran” some 55% of Israelis said that it could not, while only 31% said it could. (Rafi Smith Institute). In response to the question on whether the Obama administration is telling Israel everything it needs to know about the Iranian program, only 24% said that Washington was giving Israel an “accurate picture” of the state of the negotiations. What is clear is that Netanyahu enjoys more support from his own population than Obama enjoys from his. Some 40% of Israelis said that Netanyahu’s criticism was justified of the deal the West has been trying to put together with Iran, with an easing of sanctions against Tehran in exchange for an Iranian promise to reduce its level of uranium enrichment.

Last but not least there is the other side, both Iran and Syria. They are on the way to the deal of the century and are 100% supportive of President Obama so long as he signs on the bottom line and delivers what he has promised. However they will not be so supportive if President Obama fails to obtain domestic support. Should Obama fail to receive domestic support then the sanctions against Iran will continue by those implementing them. The President cannot force private or even government entities to engage in commerce with Iran if they don’t wish to. He may well be reminded of this in the days leading up to the next round of Geneva talks on November 20 with Iran. He may well be reminded that the Syrian civil war rages on with ever increasing veracity with an increased flight of refuges to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Obama’s diplomacy with Syria is limited only to a deal on chemical weapons.

The Tower of Babel of the American President and his population and his allies on the issues of Iran and Syria is all too apparent. There is an acute divergence of opinion between The Oval Office of President Barak and the American people, the American lawmakers and America’s allies and their population. Only time will tell whose opinion is correct but so long as the President is not responding to public opinion polls that makes him rogue to majority consensus.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.