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Netanyahu's War Games

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President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minis...

By Ben Cohen: The United States takes enormous pride in the fact that it chooses its own course in the world. 'American Exceptionalism', the idea that the US is special, is massively popular amongst the political elite who brand it as a weapon when running against each other for public office. Mitt Romney even wrote a book about it called 'No Apology: The Case for American Greatness' and has attempted to cast President Obama as the apologizer in chief for the American way of life.

According to politicians like Romney, America cedes authority to no one, apologizes to no one, and never allows any country to interfere with its ambitions.

Except that is, for Israel.

Headed by ultra right wing nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu, the tiny Jewish state has had a disproportionate influence on US politics throughout its brief history, and in its modern incarnation, it is digging its claws deeper and deeper into the functioning of US foreign policy under Netanyahu's leadership.

Netanyahu has done his best to bully Obama while he has been in office, knowing Obama's sensitive relationship with Jewish Americans can be exploited and knowing that he has huge leverage over the Republican Party eager to prise Jewish voters away from Democrats. He has refused to deal in good faith with the Palestinians, refused to stop building illegal settlements and has heinously tried to pull the US into another war in the Middle East with Iran. All the while Netanyahu has saddled up to Mitt Romney who has basically completely ceded foreign policy to the Israeli government.

Writes David Remnick in the New Yorker:

It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country. As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians, and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage. Now Netanyahu seems determined, more than ever, to alienate the President of the United States and, as an ally of Mitt Romney’s campaign, to make himself a factor in the 2012 election—one no less pivotal than the most super Super PAC. “Who are you trying to replace?” the opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, asked of Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday. “The Administration in Washington or that in Tehran?”

Netanyahu's interference into the US political arena is unprecedented in modern times. No politician of any other country would have the gall to try and dictate what the world's greatest super power should do with its military, and no one would have as much luck as Netanyahu has. Netanyahu's psychotic self belief, a silver tongue, and nuanced understanding of American politics (he spent several years studying in the US) has given him a unique position in American political culture, and he has used it to leverage Israeli interests to the best of his ability.

This is not going down well with America's pundit classes who are now seeing Netanyahu has a an active danger to US interests given his obsession with attacking Iran. Writes Time Magazine's Joe Klein:

Netanyahu’s recent behavior is outrageous. He is trying push us into a war that is not in our national interest, a war that would only further destabilize a region that is already teetering near chaos. He is trying to get us to damage our relations with the rest of the world–especially the Russians and Chinese, whom we spent great diplomatic effort luring into the Iranian economic sanctions–so that he can pursue a strategy that even the Israeli military and intelligence communities find questionable. President Obama will not yield to this pressure, nor should he–and every American should know the implications of what Netanyahu and his American neoconservative allies, including Mitt Romney, are proposing.

Dealing with Netanyahu is an extremely difficult task. After his first meeting with Netanyahu in 1996, Bill Clinton exploded to his aides "Who's the f---- superpower here?". And the list goes on. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was caught on mic saying to Obama  "I can't stand him. He's a liar,". Obama replied, "You're tired of him -- what about me? I have to deal with him every day."

The Israeli government is deeply concerned with Iran's rise to prominence in the Middle East, and it is eager to stamp its authority on the region. Netanyahu, a firm believer in the "Mad Dog" theory of political power where overwhelming retaliation and violent preemptive action are seen the only way to secure Israel's place in the world, is not interested in sanctions or negotiations. Netanyahu wants a crushing military victory and he'll pull the world into another global conflict if he feels like it. As Israeli military historian Martin van Crevald stated about his country's doctrine for dealing with perceived threats:

Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.

This nihilistic attitude towards war may be popular in Israel, but it is not in America. The US is still engaged with combat operations throughout the Middle East and is tired of seeing its troops come home in body bags. Israel can usually do no wrong in the eyes of the US media, and for prominent writers like Klein to come out with such venomous attacks, it is a sign that it has gone a step too far.

It looks as if Obama has finally had enough of Netanyahu's tactics and is beginning to nudge him away from his government.  Obama has stated publicly that the US is not interested in war with Iran, and he refused to meet with Netanyahu last week, the first time Netanyahu will visit the U.S. as prime minister without meeting the president. The message is clear: The US is tired of Netanyahu's war games and won't allow Israel to dictate US foreign policy.

At least under this administration.