Published September 20, 2012
[Iran is] six months away from being about 90 percent of having the rich uranium for an atom bomb. I think that you have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too late.
—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to David Gregory on NBC’s "Meet the Press"
One of the most enduring myths about Barack Obama is that he’s been a better foreign policy president than a domestic one. Given his feeble record at home, that isn’t saying much. And now, after the wholesale collapse of his “soft diplomacy” throughout the Muslim world, that myth has finally been shattered.
Indeed, when it comes to foreign policy, it’s amateur hour in the White House. This rank amateurism was on full display in the confusing and contradictory manner with which Obama treated the two most important leaders in the Middle East— Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu of Israel and Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt.
The current Islamic rage against America began in Egypt, and the American embassy in Cairo has been under constant assault by Morsi’s radical Islamist political partners. So how did Obama react? He agreed to reward Morsi with a private meeting at the United Nations General Assembly later this month, but flatly turned down a request for a get-together with America’s chief ally in the region, Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t trust Obama, and the president has been equally candid that he despises the outspoken Netanyahu. The White House didn’t even try to come up with a valid excuse for the president’s snub of Netanyahu. It said that the president would arrive in New York for the UN on Monday, September 24 and depart on Tuesday, September 25, and Netanyahu wouldn’t arrive in New York until later in the week. But that explanation didn’t wash, because Netanyahu offered to go to Washington if New York wasn’t convenient.
With less than two months remaining in the presidential campaign, Obama was in no mood to be lectured in public by Netanyahu about America’s ineffectual approach to stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But according to my sources in Jerusalem and Washington, the real reason Obama gave Netanyahu the brush off, was political, no diplomatic.
David Axelrod and his Chicago campaign team reckoned that if Obama agreed to meet with Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister would feel obliged to appear even-handed in the American presidential race and meet with Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. The last thing the Axelrod gang wanted to see were side-by-side front-page photos of Bibi’s chilly reception at the White House contrasted with his warm embrace by Romney. Netanyahu and Romney have a close relationship that dates back to their work together at the Boston Consulting Group in the mid-1970s. That friendship has been cemented by Romney’s trips to Israel, where he has dined with Netanyahu and his wife, and by the friends they have in common both in Israel and the United States.
The Obama campaign operation is convinced that Netanyahu is grossly interfering in the American presidential election. Netanyahu, according to their theory, wants Romney to win the election because he shares Netanyahu’s hawkish views on Iran. What’s more, the Israeli prime minister’s constant complaints about America’s approach to Iran are viewed by Axelrod & Co. as an effort to portray Obama as a weak leader.
Furthermore, the Axelrod operation believes that Netanyahu is somehow in cahoots with a major Republican effort to influence Jewish voters to abandon Obama and vote for Romney. The Chicago operatives point to the fact that the Republican Jewish Coalition is spending $6.5 million in advertisements to influence the Jewish vote in swing states like Florida.
Jews represent only 4 percent of the population in Florida, but because they vote at a disproportionately higher rate than other groups, they account for 7 to 8 percent of the total vote. Obama got 78 percent of that vote in 2008. Current polls put him at 68 percent or lower among Jews in Florida. If Obama's margin is reduced by 10 percentage points, that would translate to 85,000 lost votes. In a close election, the Jewish vote could make a difference in who wins Florida— and the presidential election—and Obama would have no one to blame but himself.