"The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest [isolationist]. Because nobody can take the place of the United States… A strategic void could be created in the Middle East, with widespread perception of Western indecision.”
(France’s foreign minister Fabius on the implications of America’s retreat)
Almost predicatbly, as things turn south for American Middle East policy “unnamed” administration sources point to Israel as cause. And Israel, unaware that serving as "America’s patsy" is an important role in its “special relationship,” goes defensive. No surprise that now, with America’s regional role a shambles and in rapid decline that Israel is again being blamed for American ineptitude and failure.
According to US Secretary of State John Kerry, if Israel fails to adopt America''s prescription for peace then Israel will be responsible for Intifada-3. And if Israel continues to oppose America''s thinly-disguised “escape in our time” deal with Iran ceding the ayatollahs the bomb, then Israel, not the United States, will be responsible for the Iranian Bomb.
Let’s take a closer look at both accusations.
In the throes of his Syria policy debacle Obama decided that the time is now to try his hand at yet another presidential initiative to resolve the Israel-Palestinian “peace problem.” With his previous such intrusion in 2009 the only result being an apparently complete breakdown in discussions between the parties, several things are likely clear to anyone outside the Beltway with any awareness of the intractability of the issue, a clear warning for amateurs to keep a safe distance. And peace talks as political theatre is at best irresponsible. An American foreign policy analyst recently observed that such “peace talks” are typically not intended to promote the advertised “final settlement,” but to serve to distract from US policy failures. And Syria/Iran surely provides just such an example.
Regarding the Israel-Palestinian issue, both the Palestinian and Israel “street” tend to view such superpower intrusions with hope, and the inevitable disappointment resulting from raised expectations likely as not results in a violent backlash. So it should not surprise that as the present bogus distraction-cum-negotiations are publicly following their usual path to failure that the president is already preparing the ground to lay blame on Israel for yet another Obama failure, and for the violence his diplomatic distraction inspired.
As regards Iran, I can well appreciate the president’s disappointment at finding not just Israel, but France describing his escape at any cost outreach to the ayatollahs as a doorway to a regional nuclear arms race. But true to form it is not France that will be confronted (Kerry asserts the two countries see eye-to-eye!) but the obstinate troublemaker Israel.
One thing should be obvious to this point: whether Obama is pursuing an active policy of retreat at any cost from the Middle East, his back-door deal with Iran providing a continuing nuclear program with cosmetic “pause” rewarded with an American beginning of the end sanctions program after retreating from a presidential threat to Assad is the last straw in American credibility. Regardless how Obama “spins” his behavior, the king stands naked before Arabs and Israel. Whatever the excuse, choice or ineptitude, America is yesterday’s news.
Obama’s Iranian deal has, paradoxically, moved Arab-Israeli “peace” one step along:
“Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs… there is a “meeting of the minds” between Israel and the “leading states in the Arab world.”
France''s president Hollande and foreign minister Fabius will arrive in Israel on Sunday, 17 October. And while plans for the visit were likely made some time ago the state visit is occurring just days before negotiations with Iran, derailed last week by France, are scheduled to resume. Holland’s visit also happens to be taking place two days before Netanyahu will be meeting with Russia’s president. This confluence of events involving Iran negotiations, France’s opposition, Hollande’s visit and Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin may represent a seismic shift in the balance of power in the Middle East and possibly, as regards the weakened American “superpower,” the world. And it all comes together at the moment the United States has never been less able to impact the events.
Israel and the Sunni Arab states (apparently absent Turkey) have reportedly been closely coordinating policy regarding Iran-after-Obama. The possibility of France becoming an active regional player was not visibly on the table until last week. After the French interventions in Libya and Mali, Hollande has demonstrated his country’s willingness to project power, at least regionally. France, a past ally of Israel before America (all is temporary and determined by changeable “national interests”) has interests in Saudi Arabia, and is chary of six decades of American failures in its previous territories Syria and Lebanon. Eye-to-eye with Israel and the Saudis France is sensitive to the impact of a nuclear Iran, and its resultant regional nuclear arms race. So there are obvious areas of strategic agreement between Israel and France.
And then there is the small matter of the Saudi-engineered rapprochement between Egypt and Russia following Obama threatening Egypt’s military! In addition to seeking assurances from Putin regarding the worrying aspects of the possible weapons deal, Netanyahu''s visit to Moscow, originally centered on the negotiations with Iran will now, representing the Gulf states and France, also try to determine
"how far Russia is willing to go to fill the “strategic void” left by America in the Middle East. [Netanyahu] will ask whether Moscow is willing to work ad hoc with Israel, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to defeat Obama’s Middle East moves."
And so the “seismic shift” takes form. The old mindset is that Israel requires its “special relationship” with the United States for security. This understanding is predicated on Israel’s partnership with the superpower in stabilizing the Middle East and reducing the American military footprint necessary to protect its regional interests. This role of “regional stabilizer” is more necessary than ever in the midst of the Islamic Winter. Whoever replaces the United States, and the time has arrived, will still need the Israeli partnership. And while France cannot do so for many reasons, Russia can. And Putin, the master of Realpolitik, certainly recognizes Israel’s value in filling that role.
If there is a surprise in Russia replacing the United States it is not “if,” but the speed at which the US role is unraveling. And France standing up to Obama indicates how quickly Europe also is adapting to the new reality.
France testing Putin through Israel suggests awareness that, as Russia replaces America in the region, so does Russia replace America in the Mediterranean. Which means Russia replaces America also in Europe. And so France is using Israel to explore the outlines of a European accommodation with Russia in the post-America era.
America longs for Isolationism? With wish now an emerging reality the saying, “be careful what you wish for” never had such far-reaching consequences!