Obama and Syria

America’s Isolationism and its Implications for Israel

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There is currently a remote possibility that the Russian strategy will succeed in averting US military action by persuading Assad to hand over his chemical weapons of mass destruction for demolition by the international community. But even if that happens, President Obama’s vacillating response to the horrors in Syria will still be considered another manifestation of America’s ongoing erosion of its superpower role as guardian of the free world against the burgeoning forces of Islamic terrorism.

In the absence of effective presidential leadership, the American people have grown weary of shouldering the burden of policing the world and sending their youngsters to battle extremists in faraway places. Obama’s policies have dramatically revived America’s dormant isolationist inclinations.

This is fortified by the Europeans who, absorbed by post-modern moral relativism, refuse to share the burden and are now barely willing to even symbolically endorse the engagement of the United States in global military initiatives to contain Islamic terror. Burying their heads in the sand, Western nations seem to deny that Jihadism, much like Nazism and communism, represents a fundamental threat to Western civilization and if not confronted, will ultimately wreak havoc in their own neighborhoods.

The procrastination and unpredictability of President Obama has already convinced US allies, including the so-called moderate Arab states, that America has become a paper tiger. Understandably, they no longer believe that they can rely on a vacillating, indecisive Commander-in Chief. In their eyes even the ineffective former President Jimmy Carter appears like a valiant warrior compared to the dithering Obama.

This attitude is unlikely to change irrespective of whether Congress endorses President Obama’s request to punish Assad for gassing his own people. Even if Congress approves an American strike it will be a limited maneuver neither intended nor likely to produce regime change. It will probably have negligible deterrent effect and may even enable Assad to portray himself as the heroic victor who triumphed against the mighty US.

Israel stands in a difficult position in the midst of the tension. Understandably, it is unwilling to side either with the murderous Assad or the monstrous Al Qaeda terrorists now dominant amongst the Syrian rebels. There is little doubt that we would wish a plague on both their houses.

But Israel recognizes that if, after Obama’s repeated promise to act if Assad crossed the “red lines” and employed chemical weapons, Congress rejects his request for a military response, the weakened President would suffer further humiliation, highlighting US impotence and strengthening the isolationist trends that have already dramatically impacted on American public opinion. This would have severe negative ramifications on Israel and the entire region and, above all, embolden the Iranians towards attaining their nuclear objective.

Conscious of the overriding Iranian issue, Israel does not wish to see Congress humiliating the President in this context. But it is also highly concerned neither to become embroiled in the Syrian civil was nor lay itself open to accusations of dragging America into a new conflict.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to be credited for acting with diplomatic astuteness. He has muzzled his traditionally outspoken and irresponsible ministers. He has succeeded in walking a diplomatic tightrope in avoiding humiliating Obama whilst simultaneously sending a clear message to the Syrians that were they to implement their threats to attack Israel, we would not remain passive as we did during the Iraqi war.

American Jewish organizations find themselves in a bind. In a bizarre turn of events, the Obama administration has turned to Israel and AIPAC to lobby Congress on its behalf. The major American Jewish organizations reluctantly responded positively and urged Congress to endorse the President’s request but are attempting to distinguish this from their traditional pro-Israel lobbying. However it is a no win situation. Should Congress approve a military strike, they will face accusations of dragging their country into a new conflict. Conversely, should Congress reject Obama, the intervention will result in severely damaging the standing of the Jewish lobby in the American political arena.

As far as Israel is concerned, it is crucial that in conjunction with increasing Islamic fundamentalist threats in the region, we factor into our strategic planning the new US isolationism and European indifference. We must absorb the reality that we are a people who stand alone and can depend on no one but ourselves to deter our adversaries.

Our greatest concern remains Iran. If the US and the West are incapable of deterring Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, we will be obliged to make difficult decisions, weighing the diplomatic consequences and considering the practicality and chances of success in initiating independent action.

This must also serve to strengthen our resolve to bury any remaining delusions that we can rely on third parties to guarantee borders or intervene in a crisis in relation to the Palestinians. In this Alice in Wonderland environment, the US and the Western European countries are unlikely to ease pressures on us to make further unilateral concessions. Even our “friends” are more inclined to focus on the construction of homes in the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem than Syrians massacring of thousands of their own people.

Therefore, in the foreseeable future, in the absence of Palestinian leaders genuinely committed to peaceful coexistence, it would be insane for us to succumb to global pressures to make further unilateral concessions, ease security or cede additional territories without genuine reciprocity.

At the same time we should take solace in the fact that there are also positive developments that benefit us.

Despite the Obama administration’s retreat towards isolationism, the American people and Congress continue to enthusiastically support Israel. This is of critical importance because, whereas we have never asked the US or any other country to engage in wars on our behalf, the US backing ensures that we retain the edge with access to the latest technological military equipment and enables us to defend ourselves and effectively deter the barbarians at our gates.

This also makes it unlikely that US would totally abandon us in the diplomatic and political arena, and would continue acting as a barrier against those seeking to impose sanctions against us.

Despite the active presence of jihadists amongst our neighbors, at a time when the military power of some of our most committed adversaries has dramatically eroded, our military strength is at an all-time high. This significantly diminishes the threat of a conventional war of aggression against us. In fact, the IDF today is capable of deterring all our adversaries combined. We must of course continue to strengthen and develop our military superiority.

Another important positive development for Israel has been the Egyptian revolt against the Moslem Brotherhood regime, preventing the rise of an Islamic totalitarian dictatorship. This represents a major body blow to Hamas, effectively an extension of the Moslem Brotherhood and considered as such by the new Egyptian regime. It has already resulted in military action against the jihadists in Sinai, lessening a major threat to security on Israel’s southern border.

Overall, when one balances the positive developments within the regional turmoil, it is clear that despite frequent gloomy and pessimistic chatter, we can regard Israel’s position as one of strength.

The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.

He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom



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