Netanyahu's Misguided Republican Strategy

Bibi Netanyahu and his allies in Washington daydream about making the perfect match after next year's American presidential election. In this fantasy a Republican president will team-up with the Likudnik Prime Minister to revitalize U.S. hegemony in the Middle East with Israel acting as its dependable sheriff. Israel will then receive a green light from the White House to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear military sites, to do a rerun of operation "cast lead" in Gaza, and to bomb Beirut in retaliation against Hezbollah. Netanyahu, who has all but signed in as a political advisor for the 2012 Republican election campaign, is operating under the assumption that if Barack Obama is ousted from the White House next year he would be replaced by a clone of George W. Bush. Driven by faith and ideology, the support of Christian evangelists and the advice of neo-conservative foreign policy intellectuals, the new Republican president will embrace a Middle East policy agenda aligned with that the Likud-led government. The Likud leader may have devised his Republican strategy after watching too much of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin denouncing the "Muslim" in the White House on FOX television and exchanging too many emails with his neoconservative pals who excoriate Obama for pursuing "anti-Israeli" policies. But Netanyahu may have missed the foreign policy debate taking place among Republicans who are discovering a cognitive dissonance between their demands for huge spending cuts in federal government and their calls for using the military to fight endless wars in the Middle East. Republicans, like Democrats, recognize that a ballooning deficit and an overstretched military leave Americans no choice but to make major cuts in defense spending by shrinking U.S. role in the Middle East. "There's been disquiet for a long time. Republicans have been too eager to support some military ventures abroad," says Republican Congressman Jeff Flake who insists that ending U.S. intervention in Libya and accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East "is perhaps a little more consistent with traditional conservatism." America's economic problems coupled with the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan and the upheaval in the Middle East helped revive these traditional conservative sentiments among Republican voters while encouraging their leaders to embrace a Realpolitik approach that is in line with the global strategy of First President George Bush, not with the his son's messianic foreign policy.

It's Bye, Bye neoconservatism; hello realism. Indeed, if Netanyahu had switched his television channel from FOX to CNN to watch the Republican presidential candidates debating in New Hampshire last week, he would have discovered that neoconservatism ceased to be central to the party's foreign policy discourse. Unlike the last Republican presidential nominee John McCain, the current candidates expressed strong reservations about aggressive U.S. intervention in the Middle East. "There is no vital national interest" requiring American military role in Libya argued Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, a darling of the Tea Party movement. Bachmann like other tea partiers scorn Islam and revere Zionism. But she also wants to balance the budget and understands that at a when Chinese bankers are financing its operations, the U.S. is not in a position to launch an attack against Iran that would raise oil prices to the stratosphere and devastate the American economy. The leading Republican presidential candidate, former Massachussetts Governor Mitt Romney said during the debate that it was time "to bring out troops home as soon as we possibly can" and warned that "our troops shouldn't go and try and fight a war of independence for another nation." Candidate Romney sounded like Bibi when argued that Obama "threw Israel under the bus." But continuing US interest in stabilizing the relationship with the Saudis, improving ties with the Turks and getting along with the Egyptians will leave President Romney no choice but to support the 1967-lines-with-swaps formula, becoming a clone of Barack Obama, not of George W. Bush.

The commentary was originally published in Haaretz.