Despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s protestations to the contrary, his speech before the joint session of Congress contained an element of obvious defiance to president Obama. After all, Obama all but forbade him to give the speech and still he gave it. Yet Netanyahu was the hardly the first western leader to exhibit insubordination. The old reliables have been falling away for some time. As the New York Times put it, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel “split” with Obama over the question of arming the Ukraine.
The pointed exchanges laid bare the divisions within the West’s ranks and did not provide a sense of how the United States and its European allies hoped to fashion a common strategy that might persuade President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to honor an agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in September.
Prior to that readers may remember how the British House of Commons refused to authorize participation in Obama’s military strike on Syria — actually refused to follow him into combat — in August 2013 by a vote of 285 to 272. The Washington Post noted it marked the first time since the Suez Crisis “that a British opposition party has rejected a government motion for military intervention.” The Daily Beast pointed out that “it was the first time a British prime minister had lost a vote on waging war since 1782, when parliament effectively called an end to the War of Independence and conceded that the American rebellion had succeeded.”
It’s no fluke. Recently in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, the man who might be its next Prime Minister started tongues wagging when he suggested that he might pivot to China. Turnbull said that ”an Australian government needs to be careful not to allow a doe-eyed fascination with the leader of the free world to distract from the reality that our national interest requires us to truly (and not just rhetorically) maintain both an ally in Washington and a good friend in Beijing.”
And finally, Turnbull recognises that all this means Australia has to rethink its place in Asia from the ground up. We cannot assume, he has said, that “the strategic and diplomatic posture that served us in the past can and will serve us unchanged in the future; or that it doesn’t matter if our strategic and economic messages to our region are somewhat contradictory”.
These words, uttered by a credible candidate for the prime ministership of one of America’s longest-standing allies are astonishing as the Pope musing about the possibility of converting to Islam. But why should Turnbull not consider these options? He knows the cavalry won’t come, any more than it wil for Ukraine, or the Syrian rebels or anyone else who relies on the “leader of the free world”.
In the universe outside the Beltway nations feel actual fear — of China, Russia or Iran – as the case may be. Germany, France, the UK, Japan and Australia need to survive and require more than dramatic poses from the lectern. In the absence of something more substantial they tend to make their own arrangements; if need be they conclude a separate peace.
It’s almost as if there were two parallel universes. The real one in which the rest of the world lives and the fantasy land bounded by the Beltway and the media capitals. Perhaps American allies of long standing are starting to suspect that there is no president in the White House. To be sure there is someone who calls himself ‘president’ and never ceases to remind the public at large of his awesome magnificence. Yet in actuality there is little concrete evidence of his majesty’s existence. For example after trumpeting an impending assault on Mosul, the Associated Press for example notes that the “US [is] on [the] sidelines of key Iraqi battle against IS”.
Glaringly absent are the U.S.-led coalition forces whose air campaign since last summer has nearly halted the Islamic State rampage across Iraq. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said this week that the U.S. is not providing air power in the Tikrit operation “simply because the Iraqis haven’t requested us to.” …
However, more of a concern for the U.S.-led coalition is Iran’s prominent role in the fight against the Islamic State militants. Iran has long been influential in Iraq, but never so much so as over the past year, when the Iraqi military collapsed in the face of the Sunni extremists’ onslaught. Iraqi officials have noted Iran’s quick response to their urgent requests for weapons and frontline assistance even as they accuse the coalition of falling short on commitments on the ground.
People notice these things. They remember that only a few years ago the US had proconsular power in Iraq. Now it doesn’t even get the time of day. The fact the man in charge operations against ISIS in the region appears to be Qassem Suleimani, chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, must make even the ordinary man start to have his doubts.