For a stronger Year Two

A year ago today, Israelis watched Obama deliver his inaugural address just as Cast Lead was concluding.

US President Barack Obama. (photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: AP)
A year ago today, Israelis watched US PresidentBarack Obama deliver his inaugural address on the West Front of the USCapitol Building in Washington, DC., as Operation Cast Lead in the GazaStrip was - not coincidentally - concluding.

Regardless of their political views, they lookedto the new leader of the free world with a healthy mix of dread andhope, knowing that some of what he would say and do could have as muchimpact on Israel and other Middle Eastern nations as on America.

Obama did not mention Israel in his address, but he did devotea good portion of the speech to matters that concern us. Notably, heoffered an outstretched hand to the Muslim world, accompanied by awarning.

The stick was delivered eloquently: "For those who seek toadvance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, wesay to you now that, 'Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. Youcannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.'"

He promised that "With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat."

For the carrot, he said: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

And he summarized his doctrine of engagement by saying: "To all other peoples and governmentswhoare watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small villagewhere my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nationand every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity,and we are ready to lead once more."

ONE YEAR later, the great expectations that Obama set forhimself in this sphere, and that others placed in him, lie largelyunfulfilled.

America has not defeated terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, or evenin its own airspace. While the Christmas Day bomber aboard a flight toDetroit was unsuccessful, the ease with which the attacker evadedsecurity precautions certainly weakened America's spirit, and theconsequences for national morale had he succeeded do not bearimagining. The US would have been pitched back into the dark daysfollowing September 11, 2001, when the terrorist murders of thousandsof innocents served as a wake-up call the last time America had a newpresident.

Obama's diplomatic approach to preventing Iran's nuclearizationhas borne no fruit; his delays in applying sufficiently bitingsanctions risk giving the Iranian leadership the impression that itwon't be held accountable. Meanwhile, the Iranian people, who may havebeen inspired by Obama's election, were denied his robust support whenthey risked their lives - and in some cases lost their lives - to protest the theft of a free election of their own.

Obama admirably sought a new way forward in his relations withthe Muslim world, which he elucidated in his June 4 speech in Cairo.The response to date has been a cold shoulder, including the rejectionof the positive gestures he sought from Arab leaders to give Israelishope of reciprocity in the peace process.

Notwithstanding his outreach, an International Peace Institutepoll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza taken after the Cairospeech found that only 27 percent viewed Obama positively; just 16% hada favorable view of the US.

Meanwhile, Obama's call for a halt to all Israeli buildingbeyond the 1967 lines - a demand no Israeli prime minister could meetin full - needlessly radicalized the Palestinian leadership, for howcould Mahmoud Abbas consent to resumed talks with Israel when PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu was not even doing what his American alliesrequired him to do? That pressure to halt building even in eastJerusalem and the major settlement blocs also reduced the president'scredibility among Israelis.

UNDER THE headline "Time to get tough," The Economist'scurrent cover portrays Obama sitting at his desk with the Nobel PeacePrize on the wall as boxing gloves are handed to him through thewindow. The magazine expresses hope that, after his goodwill tour ofthe world produced nothing but "a series of slaps in the face," thepresident would now be able to apply the stick to Iran, rather thanpersist with the carrot.

This is our hope as well: A strong Israel requires a strong America that is respected by the world.

That was prominent among the expectations Americans and Israelisharbored on that wintry day in Washington a year ago. And that is whatthey need still more urgently in President Obama's second year.