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August 29, 2013 7:02 am

What Obama Can Learn From Netanyahu on Syria

avatar by Gidon Ben-Zvi


The fighting in Syria, as seen from Israel. Photo: Tsuri Cohen-Arazi/ Tazpit News Agency.

It appears that a military strike by the United States on Syria is imminent. Yet, while developments in the Middle East are forcing the Commander in Chief to act decisively and with all due haste, every major poll taken about the public’s attitude reveals a sobering trend: Americans don’t want to engage.

Since President Obama has long based his foreign policy on how it will play at home, he may be tempted to intervene in a way that lacks continuity or consistency. In that regard, Obama can learn from another country that took action against the rogue regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad: Israel.

Israel has declared openly that it will prevent new arms from being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah. And without openly admitting it, Jerusalem has acted to enforce this promise.

Israel’s own Syria policy should hearten the overwhelming majority of Americans who recoil at the idea of another foreign entanglement. Israel has proven that it’s possible to prevent game-changing sophisticated weapons, including long range missiles, from flowing from Syria to the Hezbollah without putting boots on the ground. Furthermore, Israel’s targeted military strikes have been conducted without the country being dragged into Syria’s civil war.

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Beyond this lesson, President Obama needs to demonstrate the fortitude required to make a complete, sudden change in principle and attitude. Indeed, Obama’s realpolitik outlook treats unrest as more dangerous than injustice, and power as more important than human rights. Perhaps this explains the public’s hesitance to get involved in Syria.

In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has advocated a strong and moral foreign policy, despite a calculated risk that Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran will retaliate for its air raids.

It should be noted that, to date, the response by Syria and Iran to Israel’s repeated bombing of Syria has been muted.

For now, the focus of the Middle East’s tyrants has shifted from Jerusalem to Washington. They are watching to see if Obama’s desire to reduce America’s influence in world affairs will continue to guide his administration’s approach to Syria.

After nearly five years in office, it’s becoming painfully clear that there’s a steep price attached to Obama’s retreat from the world stage. The power vacuum left by a president who has concluded the Middle East is beyond American national interests has empowered the very reactionaries that the administration of George W. Bush spent several years unraveling.

Barack Obama now has the opportunity to shift course. To do so, he will first have to acknowledge that the United States must be a leader, not a follower. International institutions and alliances are important, but none are by themselves a sufficient substitute for America’s unique role and leadership.

By acting boldly in Syria, Barack Obama can reverse course and put America and the world on a firmer footing.

Whether or not America is in decline is a subject of much debate. But the manner in which the United States decides to define its role in international affairs is not a matter of historical forces beyond America’s control; rather, it is a question of Barack Obama’s choices, policies, and resolve.

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