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Obama's Dilemma

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 14, 2012

The announcement that the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany plan to reopen negotiations with Iran to solve the controversy around Iran's nuclear program could not come at a better time for President Barak Obama. It gives him a little wriggle room to circumvent the disingenuousness of the Republicans in this matter.

In all of this maneuvering, the Jewish vote is the prized jewel and the Republicans are too willing to say and do anything to capture it. Talk of war and the "existential threat" against Israel are the easiest ways to play on Jewish legitimate fears and insecurities and the best way to alienate them from Obama.

With a population of about five times that of Trinidad and Tobago, Jewish voters play a key role in electing any American president. In a close election they can make a substantial difference as to who wins or loses. Given the distribution of their population, their financial prowess, and their voting tenacity, no presidential candidate can be oblivious to the strength of this voting bloc.

Although Mitt Romney, the front runner in the Republican primary, is scandalously out of touch with global realities, in a close election, he can capture the highest office in the US. Such an outcome is not beyond the realm of possibility. Few persons expected George Bush, Jr. to serve two terms as the US President. He got the country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he arrived in office the US coffers were filled to overflowing. When he left office the country was in recession and indebted to China. Today, the unemployment rate stands at 8.6 per cent and gasoline prices keep on rising. The prospect for any long term growth in the economy is shaky at best.

Yet there are those who are willing to force President Obama into war with Iran to embarrass him, take the country back into recession, and rid the US of its first Black president. Rather than speak about Israel's response to the Palestinian issue, they are using as much soft power as possible to get Mr. Obama to plunge the United States into war again even as they assure Americans that such precipitate action would have no effect on the global economy. They tell us the US has an unquestioned responsible to support Israel no matter what it does.

Any serious scholar of the region knows that once Israel attacks Iran the cost of oil would rise precipitously; US relations with the Islamic world will suffer a major setback; and the US pretended neutrality will be shattered. But Israeli leaders, Republican presidential candidates, the right wing conservatives, and the evangelicals (about 100 million of them) are ready to depict Obama's reluctance to use military force as political weakness in spite of his other foreign policy successes (including the assassination of Ben Laden).

In "How to Beat Obama," an article in Foreign Affairs (March-April 2012), Karl Rove, a major Republican strategist, argued that Obama has lost "much of the political and financial support in the Jewish community" because he has mishandled the Iranian threat to Israel. It matters not that US intelligence has affirmed there is no evidence that Iran has gone from nuclear enrichment to bomb-making. It does not even matter that Israel already has the nuclear bomb. All that matters is the deployment of a manufactured controversy to get Obama out of the White House.

Rove is clear about what the Republicans must do to ensure victory in November. He says: "The Republican candidate [for the Presidency] must make clear the existentialist threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran will reduce the president's support among key [Jewish] voting blocs in the critical states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania."

Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu visited the United States. A week before he arrived, John McCain, a formidable cold warrior, led a small congressional delegation to Israel to meet with Netanyahu. Citing the complementarities of interest between the two countries, he declared: "There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the threat [from Iran.]" After the meeting, McCain said, "Unfortunately there clearly is some."

One wonders if it is ever to the US advantage to identify its national interest so fully with any other country, including Israel. Anticipating the rhetoric of the various Presidential candidates who addressed the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) that took place in Washington D.C., the same week Netanyahu was visiting the President, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt predicted that repeated references would be made to the "common interests", "unshakable bonds," and "shared values" of the two nations.

However, they warned: "This familiar rhetoric is misleading at best and at worse simply wrong. No states have identical interests, and Israel and America are at odds on two vital issues: Iran and the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Mr. Obama should continue to rebuff Israel's efforts to push him into military confrontation with Tehran, while reminding Mr. Netanyahu the true danger to Israel lies in its refusal to allow a Palestinian state" (Financial Times, March 5, 2012).

Netanyahu is a shrew customer. He realizes the pressures that are being placed on Obama at this time and the Republicans are exploiting that perception. Netanyahu realizes that his window of opportunity to attack Iran is any time between now and the Presidential elections in November when Obama may be vulnerable. He may decide to attack Iran because Obama would be forced to support him in an election year because of the importance of the Jewish vote to Obama's victory in November.

President Obama should not fall into the trap of supporting the bombing of Iran or encouraging Israel to do so. US and Israeli security would be better served if Israel ended its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and worked with the Palestinians to create an economic and viable Palestinian state? It is here where the Jewish vote can make the most difference. Peace really beats war most of the time.

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