This is precisely where political calculations enter into the equation. It is conceivable that a gaffe-prone, feeble, polarizing and increasingly vulnerable Obama will not be re-elected. If by October he has come to the conclusion that his election chances are fading or problematical, there is only one action that may yet save him from humiliation, namely, a massive air and naval attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, minus boots on the ground. He would then, in the guise of a strong, wise and pro-active president, mobilize much of the electorate behind him while conscripting the Republican Party into his policy camp. (As Daniel Greenfield points out with regard to Obama’s shady Libyan adventure, “When given the opportunity to take a stand, nearly 40 percent of congressional Republicans lacked the courage to oppose even an unpopular war begun without congressional consent.”) This cynical strategy would represent Obama’s ticket back into the White House.
The Israelis are no doubt aware of Obama’s plausible electoral calculus, which creates a serious problem for their decision making process. As the nuclear point of no return approaches, should they wait in order to gauge the president’s analysis of his electoral prospects? The so-called window of opportunity is closing rapidly and political ambiguity cannot be prolonged indefinitely.
At the same time, an aggressive and determined Obama entering upon a second term—when he will enjoy “more flexibility,” as he told Russian president Dimitri Medvedev—may be disastrous for the Jewish state, since it will have to deal for another four years with an adversarial president who does not hide his antipathy for Israel and wishes to shrink its borders to indefensible proportions, who patently favors the Palestinians, and who is busy consolidating a de facto alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Israeli dilemma is a painful one and not easily unriddled. Should Israel pre-empt the president’s possible initiative by striking first, thus creating a policy quandary for him as well as reducing his chances of a second term by stealing his thunder? Or should it continue to bide its time, hoping that Obama will act to rescue a potentially sinking candidacy, and in this way to benefit from the greater effectiveness of a far more powerful military while limiting its own casualty count? These issues would remain moot were Obama to surge in the polls; Israel’s choice would then have been made for it. But Obama’s popularity is by no means assured and grievances against his stewardship of the nation seem to be mounting. Indeed, a recent USAToday/Gallup poll shows significant slippage in Democratic voter enthusiasm.
Four more months of Ayatollah Khamenei is a lethal scenario for Israel. But four more years of President Obama may be tantamount to a deadly wasting disease. The country is now navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of conflicting alternatives. May it make the right decision.
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