Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sometimes Barack Obama can't get a break--even when he's right

I noted in a previous post that what bothered me about Obama's foreign policy is that he ascribes to the continued current penchant of the United States for having dumped massive retaliation as a deterrence strategy in favor of preemptive interventionism.

Now, President-elect Obama has said something very sane, and even my friends at don't seem to get it:

President-elect Barack Obama reportedly intends to offer a strategic pact to Israel promising a “devastating US nuclear response” against Iran in the event Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel. The move would be designed ostensibly to increase the deterrent factor against an attack on Israel.

Yet the pledge seems rather curious, insomuch as Iran not only has no nuclear arsenal, but is known to not be working on any such arsenal at the present time. Why the President-elect, while claiming an openness to direct diplomacy, would choose to make such a bellicose promise as a hedge against an attack the Iranian government couldn’t even hypothetically make is unclear, at best.

Even the Israelis seem puzzled, with one senior Israeli source wondering about the credibility of the threat when the US has been reluctant to support a pre-emptive Israeli attack on the still non-nuclear Iran. A top Bush Administration source added that he thought it would be difficult to convince the average American citizen that the US needs to enter a nuclear war with Iran, also wondering “what is the point of an American response after Israel’s cities are destroyed in an Iranian nuclear strike.”

The answer to the statement in bold is this: by making a pledge of retaliation for a nuclear attack on Israel, Obama undercuts the legitimacy of any Israeli preemptive attack on Iran, and gives him a tool to use on Tel Aviv by threatening to withdraw the pledge if the Israelis act irresponsibly toward Iran.

The source of this new doctrine is most likely Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton, who--as I reported in April--recommended extending the US nuclear umbrella over not just Israel, but also all of our NATO allies.

The NATO thing is a problem, as I don't think Clinton and Obama seriously want to make the case that we should consider an attack on Romania or Latvia to be the equivalent as an attack on the US.

On the other hand, while it may not work, Obama's positioning of Israel under that umbrella is one of the first new ideas that both protects Israel and conceivably gives us some leverage to influence (if not control) Tel Aviv's tendency toward rampant military adventurism.

Credit where credit is due: a better foreign policy idea from the Obama pre-administration is good.


Tyler Nixon said...

Points well-taken.

Speak softly and carry a big stick, as TR defined the best foreign policy posture for America.

Of course, the flip side is that Israel could ultimately feel emboldened by an American commitment to use nukes against anyone who would attack Israel.

It's a shame the world has to revolve around such dangerous games, but we must nonetheless be the most adroit of players.

Generally-speaking we have absolutely no strategic interest in Israel, which was simply a convenient middle-east cold war proxy.

They were smart to leverage that over decades into damn near some kind of wacko blood brother alliance, with AIPAC doling out possible ruin to those who dare even question a totally Israel-centric American middle-east policy.

John Famularo said...

"Generally-speaking we have absolutely no strategic interest in Israel, which was simply a convenient middle-east cold war proxy."

I an old enough to remember the post WWII sentiment that the Jews needed/deserved a land of there own. Some agreed out of compassion and fairness and others agreed as just a non violent way to get rid of the Jews. I now understand why the U.S. support for the partition of Palestine was a mistake but so much water has gone over the dam that undoing the mistake is impossible. Logic does not hold much sway over emotion in politics anyway.

Obama, is not going to fix the problem of the middle east, and neither is anyone else. Alexander the Great had a chance but he died too young. The western powers had a chance after WWI (by letting the Turks maintain some control) but they were too greedy and short sighted.

The best we can hope for is a series of temporary stalemates at low violence levels until we die and don't have to deal with it anymore.