As much as we might want to parse this moment for insights on Oval Office decision-making, it actually reveals very little. Because no matter who wins in November, the basic parameters of the U.S. approach to the Middle East are unlikely to change. We may get pulled into situations with unpredictable consequences (including a conflict with Iran), but the days of sweeping and grand U.S.-led designs for war and peace are pretty much over.
The biggest enforcer of the status quo may be Obama himself. Early on, he talked a great deal about a different American approach, calling for a freeze of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and proposing a new relationship between the United States and the Muslim world in a June 2009 speech in Cairo. But he then proceeded to become what he probably was all along — a very practical transactor who in many ways resembles George W. Bush: tough on terrorism, “surging” in Afghanistan, and in the end unwilling and unable to push the Israelis on the peace process or the authoritarian oil sheiks on reform.
If you’re looking for dramatic, creative moves from a second Obama term or a Romney administration — big peace plans, grand bargains and the like — forget about it. Your odds are better in Vegas.
The love affair with Israel will continue . . .
Yes, news flash, Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is tense. But the overall U.S.-Israeli bond is strong and will only grow stronger — and that would be even more certain should Romney win the presidency.
The relationship has transcended Democratic and Republican politics. The confluence of shared values, a powerful pro-Israeli community in the United States, support for or acquiescence in the special relationship among the broader non-Jewish and non-evangelical American public, and institutionalized strategic cooperation with the Israelis produces a bond that is hard to tear asunder.
That doesn’t mean that there can’t or won’t be tension, for instance on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But it does mean that on the larger issues of peace and war, American presidents will have no choice but to win Israel’s approval. And while Washington may seek to exert pressure at times, the main instruments will be suasion and coaxing the Israelis with all kinds of goodies and benefits.
Other parties in these matters — say, the Palestinians — don’t have anywhere near the same leverage and influence. It’s been that way for the better part of 40 years, and there’s no indication that much will change.