Middle East rope-a-dope

June 4, 2009

Obama continues pitting his enemies against themselves.  Sotomayor’s nomination is just the latest:  Republicans are caught between a rock (the base in the primaries) and a hard place (the Latin vote in the general).

The Middle East is the next installment.

Israel first: Obama demands a stop to settlements.  A relatively small step in the grand scheme of things.  Most Americans view it as a sensible enough request.  Political cost at home is minimal, even with Jewish voters.  But it puts Netanyahu in an untenable position: Under attack from his right flank while worrying the rest of the electorate that he can’t handle the U.S. relationship.

At a minimum it weakens Netanyahu’s hand, and in fact it will probably bring down his government soon in favor of a more moderate one.

Then there is Iran: Obama’s current charm offensive is not sustainable long term in the face of Iranian grandstanding.  But what if the point has never really been to coax Ahmadinejad to the negotiating table?

More likely Obama has just been giving the Iranian young (a large part of the electorate) a heavy dose of hope.  Not that Mousavi won’t still be largely a puppet of the clerics, but at least he won’t need as much tough talk to appease his base, which will make it a whole lot easier to negotiate.  Plus a new Iranian government won’t carry all the baggage of the last eight years.

So if I had to guess, tomorrow’s speech will be a throwback to the election tone: Soaring, hopeful, idealistic.

In other words:  Iran, yes we can.

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