When the United States abstained on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements, it was more than just a foreign policy error. It sold out a friend. It shows Israel and our allies that the United States can't be trusted. And most of all, it may result in Israel seeking an independent foreign policy that could trigger a nuclear exchange, undermining any hope Obama has of accomplishing any sort of foreign policy legacy.
Isn't this just a meaningless United Nations resolution?
That might be the case, if it was a United Nations General Assembly resolution, which involves votes from the entire membership of the U.N. Israel's enemies usually win those. But United Nations Security Council resolutions are more powerful. They have greater significance in international politics.
Israel usually relies upon the United States to cast a veto in the United Nations Security Council to torpedo such a resolution. That's why an "abstain" vote hurts. Because Israel needed that American "no" vote, and didn't get it. Now Israel will be under far greater international pressure to halt the settlements, giving its Middle East adversaries a big boost.
But Israel isn't a formal ally, so why does this matter?
It is true that the United States and Israel lack a formal military alliance. In fact, Israel wasn't even allowed in NATO. Every U.S. President has promised to defend Israel, and has heaped aid on the country over the years, of course.
So why does the U.S. abstention vote send a bad message? Israel may not be a formal ally, but they definitely are a friend. On nearly every issue, Israel and America are in agreement, or at least on the same page. They are a rare Middle East democracy. For a country facing constant wartime conditions, they've maintained a decent respect for human rights, as witnesses by their rating from Freedom House.
Such a vote tells America's formal military allies, like those in NATO, Latin America, and even other friends in the Middle East or Asia and the Pacific, that the U.S.A. won't always be counted on to support a friend in need.
But doesn't this make America safer?
Critics of America's pro-Israeli policy insist that our blind support of the Jewish Nation via U.N. vetoes gives terrorists plenty of ammunition to justify strikes against the U.S.A. But terrorists usually have a long list of grievances, and giving in on one issue rarely mollifies them. After all, Osama bin-Laden cited the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia as a reason for attacking the USA. But after America pulled its troops out of that country, the terror violence against the U.S. continued.
How could this decision result in a nuclear brinkmanship?
Israel has restrained itself in attacking other countries or wielding its nuclear weapons because the United States provides extended deterrence using its own arsenal. The abstention simply shows Israel that it can't trust the U.S. to defend it; the Jewish nation will likely adopt a more hawkish tone against other countries that threaten it.
One can likely see a tough Israel response to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Such an event will only get worse if hardline Ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who threatened to wipe Israel from the face of the Earth) and his allies make a comeback against President Rouhani and his moderate faction. American promises to protect Israel won't mean as much, even with a change in administration.
That's why the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.'s abstention vote, most likely the outgrowth of a petty dispute between Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, could wind up undermining the outgoing U.S. President's entire foreign policy legacy of building closer ties with allies, the Iranian nuclear accord, and a chance at a framework for a Middle East Peace Pact.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.