WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama spoke about being “one nation and one
people” during his inaugural address on Monday, but for all the nods to unity,
he staked out policy positions that did very little to bring together a
fractured and polarized country.
Instead, he planted his feet very firmly
on the Left side of the ideological spectrum. He talked at relative length about
progressive priorities such as climate change, gay rights, immigration and the
importance of entitlement programs.
And when it came to the international
arena, to which he devoted little attention, Obama emphasized engagement,
keeping the peace, and strategies other than military means for protecting US
He did, in one sentence, declare that “we will defend our
people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law,” but more
of his address was spent emphasizing the opposite approach.
people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require
perpetual war,” he said, and earlier described a decade of war as now
Obama continued, “We are also heirs to those who won the peace
and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends – and
we must carry those lessons into this time as well.”
In perhaps his most
pointed foreign policy comment, Obama pledged to “show the courage to try and
resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve
about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift
suspicion and fear.”
While those arguments found a receptive audience in
the hundreds of thousands of spectators who gathered on a chilly day in
Washington to cheer Obama’s return to office, they are not likely to be welcome
to the ears of Israel’s next government.
Israel feels that engagement has
been tried long enough when it comes to its chief geopolitical foe, Iran, and
that it is time to move to other approaches.
Though it has widely been
expected that the US will make one more bold diplomatic push to get Iran to
abandon any nuclear weapons ambitions, with Tehran stalling on setting a date
for talks and centrifuges whirring in the meantime, the prospect of a negotiated
breakthrough seems dim.
And Israeli impatience is only
Moreover, Israel thinks that Iran will only be convinced to make
significant concessions if it genuinely fears force will be used against
There has already been some concern that Obama, in selecting as his
secretary of defense former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel – who has
been vocally skeptical about using force against Iran – has sent a message that
dilutes the credibility of any threat of military action.
some voices have urged Obama to signal in other ways that force is still very
much an option – by increasing the US military presence in the Persian Gulf for
instance, or leaking Pentagon war planning, or in the short term stepping up his
In front of the world Monday, Obama declined to do
The United States and Israel have spent years stressing how closely
they are coordinating on Iran, but as the moment of decision gets closer, they
seem to be diverging.
Israel will form its own new government in the
coming weeks and choose what its message to Iran and the international community
It is very unlikely to echo Obama’s.