Papa’s got a brand new bag

What’s an American president to do once he’s secured a historic reform at home?

Obama serious 311 (photo credit: AP)
Obama serious 311
(photo credit: AP)
United States President Barack Obama managed this week to do what noAmerican president has been able to do in over 100 years – reform thecountry’s health care system.
The health care plan has been apoint of serious contention among Americans, fueling a bitter debatethat will undoubtedly last for years as the different stages aregradually implemented. Obama’s plan has left many Americans confusedand many others ecstatic, but while the changes proposed in the billare of a domestic nature, the political aftermath of its passing willbe felt globally, particularly in the Middle East.
The man whomade history with his presidential election has once again made historywith a health care reform bill. Domestic issues? Check – and with 1,030days left to go! What’s an American president to do once he’s securedsuch a victory at home? Tackle the Middle East, of course.
EveryAmerican president since Eisenhower has sought to distinguish himselfthrough his own version of a Middle East policy. It seems that theultimate legacy for any US president is to have brought peace to whatthe Western world considers the most volatile and hostile region in theworld. I say “considers,” as the West still seems largely unaware ofthe entire African continent. Obama will be no different. If anything,the level of confidence this major domestic victory has granted himputs him in a unique position to change the face of US Middle Eastpolicy forever, particularly toward Israel.
SINCE HIS election,Obama has made his position on key Israeli issues clear, particularlyhis opposition to the expansion of settlements – not an unusualofficial stance for the American presidency, but something Israel hasmanaged to work around. Until now.
Surely the past week has beensomewhat humiliating for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Having beenin this business longer than Obama, Netanyahu’s political career hasbeen typified by the cozy relationship Israel has enjoyed with theUnited States under presidents like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Goneare the days when the Israeli prime minister had a direct line to theAmerican president, the days when the Israeli leadership could sleepsoundly at night knowing that no matter what, at least the US wasbehind them. Sure, there have been tensions between the two countriesbefore, but as Examiner columnist Jim Kouri expressed this week, whatis particularly telling is that “this is a president who bowed to aSaudi king, who has repeatedly held his hand out to Iran only to havehis face slapped in response, and who has regularly suffered the slingsand arrows of insults from Russia, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, toname a few. For whom does he reserve his anger, toughness andvehemence? For Israel, the only reliable ally we have in the MiddleEast.”
WHY THE hostility? What happened to the “special” relationship with which Israel has gotten so – perhaps too – comfortable?
Itlooks as though the Obama administration is operating under a misguidedbelief that by pressuring Israel into a full-blown settlement freeze,the Arabs will respond favorably by taking significant steps towardnormalizing relations with Israel. A naïve and deeply flawed take onthe Arab-Israel conflict to be sure, but if the Netanyahu governmentbelieved that Obama’s lackluster first year in office meant hispresidency could just be waited out, this health care victory must havebeen a nasty surprise.
Obama has successfully cemented hisposition as a strong leader and a powerful negotiator domestically. Howfar this course can take him abroad remains to be seen, but who amongthe world’s leaders wants to take on an American president who iscurrently 2-for-2 when it comes to making history?