What Does Obama’s Win Mean For Bibi?

November 7, 2012 § 5 Comments

As it became clear last night that President Obama was headed for an easy victory, a bunch of people on my twitter feed began speculating – or more accurately, making jokes – about what this would mean for Bibi Netanyahu. The joking actually turned into a serious conversation about whether Obama will somehow punish Netanyahu for his perceived support of Romney and clashes with the president, with some going so far as to speculate that he will tell Netanyahu that no help on Iran is forthcoming. It seems that Netanyahu is worried himself, as he is already clamping down on Likud members¬†who are expressing negative reactions to Obama’s reelection out of fear that it will damage his standing with the White House even further.

Despite what is obviously not a great relationship between the two men, I don’t quite see how Obama’s reelection is going to have much of a negative effect on Netanyahu or the U.S.-Israel relationship at large. This is true for a few reasons. First, as Steven Cook persuasively argued last month, the relationship is institutionalized to the point that personal animosity between the countries’ leaders is not going to have much of an effect, if any. Let’s assume that Obama decides this morning that he wants to put the screws on Netanyahu – what precisely is he going to do? Aid to Israel is controlled by Congress, the joint military and intelligence cooperation is so deeply ingrained that it would take a long time to reverse, and there are deep ties between the two countries at all levels of government, business, and society. There are smaller things that Obama could do on the margins, but the immediate consequences are close to zero.

Second, and I cannot stress this enough, if you think that the myriad of ways in which Obama supported Israel during his first term was just a feint to win an election, then you are falling victim to the same delusion that said Nate Silver and all of the polls predicting an Obama win were deliberately skewing the evidence. Quite simply, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that all of a sudden funding for Iron Dome, joint military exercises, vetoing of anti-Israel UN resolutions, and other similar actions are going to stop now that Obama doesn’t have to worry about senior citizens’ votes in Florida. I will bet any amount of money that there is no drop-off in the administration’s support of Israel in the security and diplomatic spheres, and the folks who think otherwise have a large burden of proof to overcome that cannot be swept away merely by shouting “but he didn’t visit Israel” or “he left Netanyahu waiting while he ate dinner with his family.”

Third, Obama is not very popular among Israelis, and so even if he wanted to punish Netanyahu by trying to interfere in the Israeli election, it just wouldn’t work. Bill Clinton might have been able to sway Israelis when he was president, but Obama does not have the popularity, credibility, or familiarity with Israeli voters to pull of such a move. The fact that Obama was reelected is not going to factor into Israelis’ calculations when they go to the polls, as Brent Sasley helpfully pointed out previously. The idea that Netanyahu now has to be running scared because his hopes to have Romney elected did not pan out is a pretty flimsy one.

Finally, the suggestion that Obama is now going to tell Netanyahu that the U.S. has no interest in confronting Iran makes little sense to me based on previous U.S. actions and Obama’s long record of statements indicating that he views an Iranian nuclear bomb as a real problem. Aside from Stuxnet, crippling sanctions, and an increased carrier presence in the Gulf, Obama has made clear that preventing nuclear proliferation is perhaps the foreign policy issue that he holds most dear. The disagreement between he and Netanyahu over the red line of nuclear capability vs. nuclear weapons is still going to be there, but Obama has held firm to his own timeline so far and he is not going to now somehow make it even more firm because he has been reelected. The bottom line here is that Obama is worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon as well, and he is not going to drop his concerns just because he and Netanyahu do not get along very well.

P.S. For another argument on why the Obama revenge meme is an ill-informed one that focuses on different variables than mine, check out Peter Beinart this morning.

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§ 5 Responses to What Does Obama’s Win Mean For Bibi?

  • Great analysis!
    Would Obama work with Olmert and/or Livni to oust Bibi, as Clinton’s
    did successfully with Barak in 1996? (Yes, Obama is not loved by Israelis, but the vast majority of Israeli media is in love with Obama, and will gladly participate with Obama/Olmert/Livni)

    • As you may know, I am hugely skeptical that Olmert will be running for anything. As for working with Livni, I just don’t think Obama cares about Israeli politics enough to spend his time meddling.

      • Richard Thomas says:

        Having seen the way Obama works, I could be persuaded that, whilst he might not go out of his way to do Netanyahu down, he is quite capable of letting him swing from the trees through an act of his own folly or hubris.

  • [...] are plenty of reasons why Obama would have little interest in picking another political fight with [...]

  • [...] What Does Obama’s Win Mean for Netanyahu? – Michael Koplow Think of the myriad of ways in which Obama supported Israel during his first term. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that all of a sudden funding for Iron Dome, joint military exercises, vetoing of anti-Israel UN resolutions, and other similar actions are going to stop now that Obama doesn’t have to worry about another election. I would bet there is no drop-off in the administration’s support of Israel in the security and diplomatic spheres. Finally, the suggestion that Obama is now going to tell Netanyahu that the U.S. has no interest in confronting Iran makes little sense to me based on previous U.S. actions and Obama’s long record of statements indicating that he views an Iranian nuclear bomb as a real problem. Aside from Stuxnet, crippling sanctions, and an increased carrier presence in the Gulf, Obama has made clear that preventing nuclear proliferation is perhaps the foreign policy issue that he holds most dear. The writer is program director of the Israel Institute. (Ottomans and Zionists) [...]

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