Will despots in Iran, Syria privately welcome Obama’s win?

November 07, 2012


The Huffington Post asked for a piece (below) to cover the Middle East, as part of their “world reaction page” to the American election results this morning.

After that, there is an article by David Weinberg from today’s Israel Hayom, one of Israel’s highest circulation newspapers.

(You can comment on them here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, or at the Huffington Post link.)


Will despots in Iran, Syria privately welcome Obama’s win?
By Tom Gross
Huffington Post
November 7, 2012


Middle East is a region where Barack Obama promised much and delivered little in his first term as president.

Almost from the outset, he disappointed Iranians. As their pro-democracy protests of 2009 were brutally crushed, they chanted, “Obama, Obama are you with us or against us?” while the White House remained largely silent. Obama’s continued outstretched hand to the Iranian regime, his sending two letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei seeking cooperation between their governments, and his video message promising “mutual respect,” further demoralized many reform-minded Iranians.

Later in his first term, Syrian civilians were left confused, bewildered and angry as Obama did next to nothing to come to their aid while the Assad regime mercilessly mowed them down.

He also managed, through the sheer clumsiness and incoherence of his approach, to infuriate Israelis and Palestinians in equal measure. Indeed exit polls of the 100,000 dual American-Israeli citizens residing in Israel showed they voted for Romney by a whopping 85 percent – in marked contrast to Jews in the U.S. who remain solidly Democrat. (69% of Jews voted for Obama, 30% for Romney, according to CNN. In 2008, 78% of American Jews voted for Obama.)

While many fans of Obama in America claim that he is a far more popular president abroad than his much-detested predecessor, George W. Bush, this has not in fact been the case – at least not in the Middle East. Obama thought Arabs and Iranians would embrace him and they haven’t. Nor did they do so in Pakistan, where pre-election polls showed more people were rooting for a Romney victory yesterday than an Obama one.

From as early as the end of his first year in office, the Pew Global Attitudes Poll confirmed that Obama’s election had not improved America’s standing in the Muslim world. In the Palestinian territories, 15% said they had a favorable view of the U.S. while 82% had an unfavorable one. Obama’s 2009 speech in Ankara didn’t seem to help in Turkey, where 14% then said they had a favorable view of him and 69% unfavorable. Obama’s ratings were hardly any better elsewhere in the region. Indeed no one I have spoken to there quite understands why he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

While it remains the case that in the “Arab street” there is still a feeling that Obama is more like them than Romney is, especially since Obama’s father was a Muslim, many others in the Middle East are expressing anxiety this morning about the news that Obama has secured a second term.

This is particularly so in Israel where people fear he will exert strong pressure on the country to withdraw from territory which lies only a few miles from Tel Aviv before a genuine partner for peace has been found among the Palestinian rulers. Israelis saw what happened after they withdrew from Gaza only to then be on the receiving end of thousands of missile attacks from the land they left, and want to ensure that any withdrawal from the West Bank doesn’t result in a similar situation occurring even closer to Israel’s major population centers.

And there is real despair this morning among many anti-regime Syrians who were hoping and praying that a Romney victory might bring much needed U.S. military assistance in the form of a no-fly-zone, or arms supplies to help them defend themselves against Assad’s forces.

Among the Arab leadership, particularly in the Gulf, many indicated behind the scenes, that they would feel more comfortable with a man like Romney, i.e. someone who is familiar with the world of IPOs, and mergers and acquisitions, and all the terminology of big business, and who is himself someone of considerable means. They have never been thrilled at dealing with Obama, whom some privately dismiss as part community organizer, part naïve leftist academic. “Romney fits in more with our comfort zone,” one member of a ruling family in a pro-Western Gulf state said to me.

Many Arab governments are led by people who have spent most of their lives accumulating wealth for themselves and their families, much like Romney. However, unlike Romney, they have little interest in pursuing democratic goals, or granting equal rights to women, so they need no longer be concerned by the prospect of neo-con advisors to Romney who might have done precisely that.

As for the leaders in Iran, like those in Russia and China, they will privately welcome Obama’s win, since he is likely to continue to allow them to get away with much mischief on the international stage while Romney might have taken a harder line. They regard Obama as weak, and believe that another Obama term will enable them further to dilute America’s global influence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders in the region have released polite press statements this morning congratulating Barack Obama and saying they look forward to working with him in his second term.

But privately they and other Middle Easterners realized during the campaign that it seems that in his second term Obama will seek to avoid too much involvement in the Middle East (or too many “foreign entanglements” in general) -- his premier task will be to concentrate on reviving the American economy. After seeing the final, foreign policy, presidential debate many understood that America was a war-weary nation, and both candidates sought to end existing wars and avoid new ones.

He may try to slip them down his list of priorities, but the ever-growing Iranian nuclear threat, and the wave of change and turmoil currently engulfing much of the Arab world will ultimately prove too dangerous for America, which still remains the world’s premier power, to ignore.

(Tom Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and New York Daily News.)



Fill your sandbags
By David Weinberg
Israel Hayom
November 7, 2012


I’d like to believe that President Barack Obama's re-election means nothing significant for U.S.-Israel relations, since “all Democratic and Republican presidents over the past four decades have been solidly pro-Israel” — as Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom argued on Israel Radio this morning. But Shalom is putting a pretty face on a forbidding situation.

Obama’s re-election means that Ehud Olmert is going to run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming Jan. 2013 Israeli election. It means that Obama is going to intervene aggressively in our election to boost Olmert. It means that a push for immediate Palestinian statehood is back on the international agenda. Most worrisome of all, it means that an American “grand bargain” with the Iranians, possibly at our expense, is on the table.

With good reason, Olmert and Tzipi Livni seem to think they can count on Obama’s strong support in the race against Netanyahu. There are a myriad of ways in which Obama and his emissaries can make it clear to the Israeli voter that U.S.-Israel relations will suffer if Netanyahu is re-elected. They know that Israeli voters fear U.S.-Israel conflict.

Obama’s anti-Netanyahu campaign will be the flip side to the campaign we’ve seen in recent weeks seeking to convince American Jews and Israeli Americans that Obama “has Israel’s back.” Just as the Jewish and Israeli press was swamped with pro-Obama testimonials from Dennis Ross, Alan Dershowitz, Jack Lew, General Dempsey and others, now we’ll get hints and warnings that the “unprecedented” gains in U.S.-Israel intelligence sharing and weapons development approved by Obama will wither if Netanyahu is re-elected. White House backing for Israel in the Security Council will be conditional upon Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, and so on.

It won’t be the first time that an American administration has blatantly intervened to sway Israeli public opinion. Former President George H.W. Bush campaigned against former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992, among others, by refusing to approve U.S. loan guarantees for Soviet immigrant absorption because of Shamir’s settlement policies. Shamir lost that election after serving two previous terms. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned vigorously for Shimon Peres and against Netanyahu in 1996. That effort backfired.

In his second term, Obama will be seeking to fashion a long-term legacy. With Congress still at a deadlock, he will have difficulty aggressively advancing his domestic agenda. That leaves foreign affairs and defense policy, where he has a freer hand.

On matters that directly affect Israel, remember that Obama is deeply committed to three things: global nuclear disarmament, rapprochement with the Islamic world, and Palestinian statehood. I believe that he will forcefully act to progress on all three fronts, and this could bring him into conflict with Israel.

In a briefing that he is scheduled to give in Washington later today, Dr. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, will assert that Obama intends to offer Iran a “grand deal” to test whether diplomacy can stop its nuclear program. In fact, according to one press report, Obama’s close personal friend and White House adviser, the Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, has for months been secretly negotiating in Bahrain with a representative of Tehran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A U.S.-Iran agreement could involve tacit recognition of Iranian hegemony in the Gulf region and acceptance of its nuclear status, in exchange for a long-term freeze in Iran’s enrichment of uranium to high levels. This would leave Ahmadinejad’s nuclear development facilities, including the Fordow underground center, intact, instead of dismantling them. This would allow the Iranians to continue refining their nuclear skills. Even at low levels of enrichment this provides a framework with which Tehran can bypass Western restrictions and hoodwink Western inspectors.

Every Israeli knows that Iran has clandestinely crossed every “red line” set by the West over the past 20 years — putting nuclear plants online, building heavy water facilities, refining uranium, working on explosive triggers and warheads, and generally breaching all its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — and has gotten away with it. So any deal that scales back sanctions and allows Iran to keep operating its advanced nuclear development facilities, even at a low-level, is a fatal bargain.

The deal could also involve a commitment to “tackle” Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Israel’s nuclear status has been supported and criticized by different American presidents over the decades, but has never been significantly threatened. In July 2010, Obama pledged support for Israel’s right to defend itself by any means possible — by implication, even with nuclear weapons.

However, Washington seems to have backtracked on its clear support, and is now supporting a U.N. conference on a nuclear-free Middle East scheduled for December in Finland which could very well focus on Israel. This issue holds the potential for acute friction between the two countries. Prof. Uzi Arad, who was National Security adviser to Netanyahu and who negotiated the July 2010 understandings, says that America had indeed undertaken to ensure that there would only be “discussions” at the Finland conference, with no move to enforce nuclear restrictions on Israel. We’ll see …

There is a theory which postulates that Obama’s re-election brings the required showdown with Iran closer than a Romney win would have, because Obama is already so invested in the issue and so clearly on record as rejecting the mere containment of Iran. But I don’t buy it. Obama’s paramount commitment to rapprochement with the Islamic world, I suspect, will overtake his declarations of opposition to Iran. He never was going to, and never will, confront Iran militarily.

Which brings us to Palestinian statehood, which was one of Obama’s earliest and most earnest commitments. Mahmoud Abbas’ obstinacy hasn’t made it easy for Obama to back Palestinian aspirations, but Abbas is forcing the issue with his push for unilateral recognition of Palestinian quasi-statehood at the U.N. later this month. Israel expects Washington to punish the PA for this, but I wonder. And when Israel announces new settlement construction, adoption of the Levy Report, and other penalties to Abbas in response to the U.N. decision, I doubt that we’ll get much support from Obama.

So start filling your sandbags. We’re in for a rough ride.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.