The Long Game And Israel

Some readers understandably mock me for my occasional "meep meep" posts about Obama's shrewd sense of strategy. But I think the mockery is sometimes based on a misunderstanding. I do not now and never have believed that Obama is some kind of guru, capable of seeing far into the future, a Jedi president capable of foiling all enemies with cunning and foresight.

The, er, evidence does not exactly back this up. The errors of judgment and foresight are pretty clear - from letting Clinton win New Hampshire to Ben Nelson's months-long fiddling over health insurance to the collapse of cap-and-trade. My point is rather that he has a clear pattern of behavior that is acutely tuned to the longterm. He lets things take their course. Rather than tipping his hand early and decisively, he tends to hang back, aloof, distant, watching. Only when events have occurred that have proven the pointlessness of options he doesn't favor does he forthrightly present his own. And quite often, he almost seems intent on orchestrating such public failures of others' (and his own apparent) options - even at his own short-term cost.

And so on Israel, we have seen a laborious, frustrating, endless attempt to get the Israeli government to get serious about stopping settlements and work on a peace deal. The constant humiliations at the hand of Netanyahu, the contempt shown the US by Netanyahu's coalition partners, the massive bribes just to get Israel contemplating a minimal settlement freeze, the Pavlovian way in which Israel's reflexive supporters have done all they can to stymie any movement ... well, it's been an exhaustive experience, hasn't it?

But here's the point: it has proven to almost everyone that nothing serious can get done between the current Israeli polity and the promising, if still inchoate, nation-builders in the West Bank. Obama has not asserted this; he has demonstrated it. And this is the key difference between Bush and Obama. Bush constantly declared things to be so. Obama waits until everyone sees it for sure.

This patience, moreover, does not go nowhere. Failure leads to new terms for success. And what Obama has done is get Netanyahu unwittingly to make the global argument that a peace settlement cannot be won with Israel's support and cooperation -  but can only be imposed somehow from outside. The two years of trying so clearly to make the old model work has ... proven the old model is finished. Now watch the U.N.

I might add that exactly the same endless and agonizing process has consumed the US engagement with Iran. What Obama is trying to prove is that Iran will eventually bow to economic and political pressure on nukes. But if the long process fails to achieve that ... then the case for war will be stronger.

The long game works both ways in the Middle East.