What to make of President Obama’s apathy towards a Middle East in turmoil?
The record of US President Barack Obama’s recent call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not made public. Here is how it went down, reckons Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara.
BN: Shalom, shalom, what a nice surprise, what’s up?
BO: Prime minister, let’s cut through the niceties! I don’t appreciate your continuous attempts to undermine me in Congress. Certainly not now and not on Iran.
BN: I did no such thing. I merely accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation to speak to both Houses of Congress. Who wouldn’t! I did it in 1996, in 2011 and I would be honoured to do it again.
BO: No Bibi, let’s don’t do that; Don’t insult my intelligence! I know how your ambassador initiated the conversation about the speech with Congressional Republican leaders. You’ve been trying to undermine me from the start; not to mention supported Romney against me. It’s not ethical to go behind the back of the president of the United States and insert yourself into an internal American debate between the White House and Congress over US foreign policy.
BN: Excuse me Mr President, but there’s nothing domestic or exclusively American about Iran’s nuclear programme. You know all too well that we are just as concerned with the issue and you have kept us in the dark since the negotiations started while chumping up to the Ayatollahs. How do you think it makes us feel watching Secretary Kerry making jokes and strolling with the Iranian foreign minister?
BO: I didn’t call you to discuss John’s sense of humour. My administration has kept you abreast with the progress in the negotiations and I have repeatedly made it clear that all options are on the table and that I would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons programme.
BN: Yeah, and you also said use of chemical weapons in Syria was a red line and the PLO would be punished if it pursued UN recognition!
BO: Do you even hear yourself talking! Didn’t I disarm the Syrian regime from chemical weapons, and foil the Palestinians’ attempt at the [UN] Security Council without even using our veto power? Is that how you thank me; how you reward America?
BN: Barack, let’s not get emotional. Of course we appreciate your support, but you’re not exactly a decisive leader that delivers on his ultimatums.
BO: Well, here’s one for you: If you continue to undermine me over Iran, you will pay dearly.
BN: Here we go again! There’s nothing new here to merit all your agitation, nothing that I didn’t say on countless occasions and at countless platforms. My government believes it takes sticks, not carrots, to deter Iran, and the threat of force not the appeasement of diplomacy will stop it. Let’s just agree to disagree.
BO: Well, my administration thinks differently and if we are to agree to disagree, then you need to stay out of Washington politics just as Washington keeps out of yours.
BN: This is not fair Mr President. Easy to talk when your feet aren’t so close to the fire; that this is a dangerous unfriendly region where extremists are roaming everywhere.
BO: Come on! It’s not like Israel doesn’t possess nuclear weapons and can’t defend itself. It’s rather your occupation, settlements, and continuous undermining of the peace process that are making things worse for both of our nations.
BN: We can’t and won’t make any further redeployment from the West Bank; not as long as extremism is on the rise and the region is falling apart. We shan’t allow Abbas a state so that Hamas goes to govern. Not happening!
BO: I’ve told you many times, a disarmed Palestinian state is good for Israel, but then, and as you said, we’ve also agreed to disagree about this. And despite the pressure from Arabs and Europeans, I have not tried to affect Israel’s politics or your decision processes. I even defended you everywhere when I knew you’re in the wrong.
BN: We don’t call Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria occupied. Nonetheless, we do appreciate your support and for leaving us be.
BO: We’ve already reached an understanding: a division of labour. You may have the last word in Palestine, but the US has the last word in the region and on Iran in particular. You have neither the capacity, nor the legitimacy, or the clout to deal with the big burning Middle East issues. So you must leave it to us. Stop meddling in Washington; stop provoking Iran and Hezbollah. Using air strikes to kill their personel in Syria might be satisfying, but it’s counterproductive. The main enemy is ISIL.
BN: See, here you again, Hezbollah, Al-Quds force, ISIL, Hamas, these are all Islamic terrorists and we don’t differentiate between them.
BO: You’re not on CNN, Benjamin. You and I know Hamas is nothing like ISIL. Besides, it’s your continued delegitimisation of Abbas that’s strengthening Hamas. Israel has every right to defend itself, but the illegal settlements are hurting both Palestine and your version of the Jewish state.
BN: If you allow me Mr President, you’re new to this region. Your predecessors have long trusted Israel’s perspectives; we’ve been America’s eyes and ears in this complicated and hostile region; we fought and defeated your Soviet-supported enemies when you were losing in Vietnam; we shared intelligence and the lessons of war against Soviet-made weapons during the Cold War. We did your dirty work not only in the Middle East but also in Asia, Africa and Latin America when Congress didn’t have the stomach for it. Israel is an asset not a burden, Mr President! Treat us like one!
BO: That was then, and we are in the present. And in case you forgot, America armed you and made you into the most powerful country in the region that can fend against any combination of enemies. We supplied you with over $150bn of direct military and financial aid, we’ve invested in you, we protected you at the UN, and we even covered up for all your excesses and violations. But the Cold War is over and all the Arab and Muslim nations are happy to work with, or for, us, and they’re ready to recognise Israel if you allow for a two-state solution in good faith, and withdrew from the occupied Arab lands. That would be of great benefit for you and for the United States.
BN: The Cold War might be over, but another global war is being waged against you and us. Mr President, extremist Islamists don’t hate you because of us; they hate us because we are an extension of you. We need to be united in confronting this deadly ideology, whether Sunni or Shia, together and before it’s too late. We can’t let Iran or its clients off the hook because of ISIL.
BO: See that’s the problem with your perspective, your proximity to the conflict blinds you from seeing the big picture. Yours is a small state with immediate perspective. You see the region in black and white; I see it in shades of grey. My predecessor lived in your mindset and acted like a hammer that saw a nail in every challenge. And look where that got us. I am trying to juggle many issues and build different coalitions on multiple fronts to confront regional and global threats, and you’re not helping.
BN: OK, fine. But as the leaders of two sovereign democracies, why not let the people decide what is the right policy on Iran?
BO: The people of the United States decided when they elected me as president and commander-in-chief for the second time, knowing all too well my position on Iran and diplomacy. The United States doesn’t need another speech from you to decide.
BN: So why are you so worried?
BO: I am not worried; I am annoyed. I am irritated. I’ve already told Congress that I would veto any more sanctions. Remember, I don’t have another election to win and won’t be blackmailed by your lobby. Nor, by the way, will Hillary, who already made it clear more Iran sanctions would be counter-productive.
BN: Well, we shall see about that.
BO: We will. Meanwhile, I am Barack Obama and I am the president and I am telling you to back off.
BO: And I won’t be seeing you anytime soon.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him at @MarwanBishara