Analysis: Obama calls for unity

Israel will choose what its message to Iran will be. It is very unlikely to echo Obama’s.

Obama waves during his second presidential inauguration 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama waves during his second presidential inauguration 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 interests.
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.
“We, the 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 ending.
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 growing.
Moreover, Israel thinks that Iran will only be convinced to make significant concessions if it genuinely fears force will be used against it.
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.
Accordingly, 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 rhetoric.
In front of the world Monday, Obama declined to do that.
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 will be.
It is very unlikely to echo Obama’s.