The Obama goal was simple: win back global soft power in the war against Jihadist terrorism by demonstrating even-handedness again with the Israelis and Palestinians; use hard power much more effectively by lethally targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The latter has been a big success. The former a major failure – fundamentally caused, as Judis beautifully explains, by Netanyahu’s adamant resistance to any serious attempt at a two-state solution on 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, the only formula with any chance of success.
Many of us who supported Obama partly on his potential to transform America’s Muslim relations, especially in the wake of the extraordinary Arab Spring, have been crushed and angered. But the anger has by now led to total resignation. I mean: what, in the end, was Obama supposed to do? Many of the chieftains in his own own party – Reid, Hoyer, et al. – are more loyal to the Israeli prime minister and their core donors than to their own president. The GOP is even worse: actively going to Israel and colluding with the Likud against the US administration to enable more and more illegal settlements on the West Bank. AIPAC’s roll-call at its last conference revealed a veto-proof majority of Congress. Veto-proof. I doubt that was a message designed to be buried.
So any genuine attempt to put any serious pressure on Netanyahu would be immediately undercut by the Hill. So would have recognizing the Palestinian state at the UN. If Obama had followed through, the Congress would have responded by cutting off aid to the Palestinians, backing Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, and would reveal triumphantly that even a president who has done as much for Israel as Obama (bunker-busting bomb sales, rescuing embassy staff in Cairo spring immediately to mind) cannot break out of the constraints any president is under when tackling this subject.
In that sense, I believe the pro-Greater Israel skeptics of the sincerity of Obama’s UN speech are largely right. Obama simply has run out of options. So he has cut his losses and capitulated – what any serious leader does when he recognizes the forces against him are so massive there’s no hope but to wait for a recapitalization after another election victory. Meanwhile, Netanyahu remains in Israel an extension of the GOP at home – and more secure than ever because the GOP has adopted wholesale the Christianist support for Greater Israel on theological grounds. What is at stake is nothing less than America’s global credibility as a power able to act in its own interests, outside the demands of religious fundamentalists and Democratic donors. That has now been revealed, when it comes to Israel, as essentially impossible.
We had a window. It’s important to remember who shut it, and tried to lock it tight.