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Obama, McCain and Israel's National Security

September 26, 2008
by Yoram Ettinger

The policy of US presidents, toward Israel, is a derivative of their worldview, and not of their campaign statements and position papers.

A worldview shapes presidential attitude toward Israel as a strategic asset or a liability and toward Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria and the Golan Heights.  A presidential worldview determines the scope of the US posture of deterrence in face of Middle East and global threats, which directly impacts Israel's national security.

For example, President Nixon was not a friend of the US Jewish community and was not a leader of pro-Israeli legislation in the US Senate.   In 1968, he received only about 15% of the Jewish vote.  However, his worldview recognized Israel's importance to US national security, as was demonstrated in 1970, when Israel rolled back a Syrian invasion of Jordan, preventing a pro-Soviet domino scenario into the Persian Gulf. It was Nixon's worldview which led him to approve critical military shipments to Israel - during the 1973 War - in defiance of the Arab oil embargo and brutal pressure by the Saudi lobby in Washington, and in spite of the Democratic pattern of the Jewish voters.

On the other hand, President Clinton displayed an affinity toward Judaism, the Jewish People and the Jewish State. However, his worldview accepted Arafat as a national liberation leader, elevated him to the most frequent guest at the White House, underestimated the threat of Islamic terrorism, unintentionally facilitated its expansion from 1993 (first "Twin Tower" attack) to the 9/11 terrorist tsunami, adding fuel to the fire of Middle East and global turbulence.

How would the worldview of Obama, McCain and their advisors shape US policy toward Israel?

1.  According to McCain, World War 3 between Western democracies and Islamic terror/rogue regimes is already in process.  According to Obama, the conflict is with a radical Islamic minority, which could be dealt with through diplomacy, foreign aid, cultural exchanges and a lower US military profile. Thus, McCain's world view highlights - while Obama's world view downplays - Israel's role as a strategic ally.  McCain recognizes that US-Israel relations have been shaped by shared values, mutual threats and joint interests and not by frequent disagreements over the Arab-Israeli conflict.

2.  According to Obama, the US needs to adopt the world view of the Department of State bureaucracy (Israel's staunchest critic in Washington), pacify the knee-jerk-anti-Israel-UN, move closer to the Peace-at-any-Price-Western Europe and appease the Third World, which blames the West and Israel for the predicament of the Third World and the Arabs. On the other hand, McCain contends that the US should persist - in defiance of global odds - in being the Free World's Pillar of Fire, ideologically and militarily.

3.  According to Obama, Islamic terrorism constitutes a challenge for international law enforcement agencies and that terrorists should be brought to justice.  According to McCain, they are a military challenge and should be brought down to their knees. Obama's passive approach adrenalizes the veins of terrorists and intensifies Israel's predicament, while McCain's approach bolsters the US' and Israel's war on terrorism.

4.  Obama and his advisors assume that Islamic terrorism is driven by despair, poverty, erroneous US policy and US presence on Muslim soil in the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, McCain maintains that Islamic terrorism is driven by ideology, which considers US values (freedom of expression, religion, media, movement, market and Internet) and US power a most lethal threat that must be demolished. McCain's worldview supports Israel's battle against terrorism, demonstrating that the root cause of the Arab-Israel conflict is not the size - but the existence - of Israel.

5.  Contrary to McCain, Obama is convinced - just like Tony Blair - that the Palestinian issue is the core cause of Middle East turbulence and anti-Western Islamic terrorism, and therefore requires a more assertive US involvement, exerting additional pressure on Israel.  The intriguing assumption that a less-than-hundred year old Palestinian issue is the root cause of 1,400 year old inter-Arab Middle East conflicts and Islamic terrorism, would deepen US involvement in Israel-Palestinians negotiations and transform the US into more of a neutral broker and less of a special ally of Israel, which would drive Israel into sweeping concessions.

Obama's worldview would be welcomed by supporters of an Israeli rollback to the 1949 ceasefire lines, including the repartitioning of Jerusalem and the opening of the "Pandora Refugees' Box." On the other hand, McCain's worldview adheres to the assumption that an Israeli retreat would convert the Jewish State from a power of deterrence to a punching bag, from a producer - to a consumer - of national security and from a strategic asset to a strategic burden in the most violent, volatile and treacherous region in the world.

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