Uh-oh

President Obama's hopes for a grand bargain with Iran took a plunge toward the rocks with the come from behind re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel.  Breitbart called it somewhat incongruously, the "St Patrick's day miracle in Israel".  Obama had counted on teaching Netanyahu not to defy him.  Somewhere along the line the lesson went very wrong.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently defied the mainstream media and the Obama administration with a stunning, come-from-behind victory in Israel’s elections on Tuesday. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had been projected to lose to Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union by a margin of 26-22. Two exit polls released at the close of voting, however, suggested Likud would win, 28-27 (a third poll showed them tied). Netanyahu is now expected to form a new governing coalition.

Netanyahu was under pressure from voter discontent over his handling of the domestic economy.  He might have lost of his own accord until president Obama's clumsy effort to unseat him allowed Netanyahu to play the national security card and turn the tables. "Netanyahu had three messages: first, that if Israelis wanted him to return to power, they would have to vote for his party; second, that he would not allow a Palestinian state to be created despite earlier commitments; third, that foreign donors and governments were mobilizing Arab voters, including some who oppose Israel’s existence, to turn out."

And it worked. The New York Times sputtered in barely contained fury. "Israel’s election has done a lot to reveal the challenges facing the country and the intentions of the men who seek to lead it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli Arab voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis."

Mr. Netanyahu showed that he was desperate, and craven, enough to pull out all the stops. On Monday, he promised that if his Likud faction remained in power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, thus repudiating a position he had taken in 2009.

Obama had struck at the king -- and missed. He's been doing a lot of striking and missing lately. In the weeks previous the president also tried to push Congress out of the deal he was negotiating with Iran and similarly struck out. Politico reports that Democrats are now prepared to buck White House on the Iran nuclear deal.

Even as the White House ramps up pressure on Congress to stay out of its negotiations with Iran on a nuclear agreement, Republicans are on the brink of veto-proof majorities for legislation that could undercut any deal.

And that support has held up even after the uproar last week over the GOP’s letter to Iranian leaders warning against an agreement.

Though several Democratic senators told POLITICO they were offended by the missive authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), none of them said it would cause them to drop their support for bills to impose new sanctions on Iran or give Congress review power over a nuclear deal.

That presents another complication for the administration ahead of a rough deadline of March 24 to reach a nuclear agreement with the country.

Even the French are starting to part company with Obama's diplomacy. "PARIS (Reuters) – France said on Monday it was maintaining its opposition to talks with President Bashar al-Assad a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the prospect of negotiations with the Syrian leader."  Obama's allies have been peeling off like old paint from a rusty scow.

All the trump cards that Obama counted on playing against the Ayatollahs have been negligently tipped out of the window by the chief executive through a series of errors caused mostly by his high-handed style.  Although he began with a strong hand he has unaccountably been flubbing every play. There was a time when the president controlled Congress; a period when American relations with Russia were so warm it was largely assumed that Moscow would become a normal capital like Paris or Berlin. And America had no closer ally than Israel. But each of these cards escaped his grasp and are now fluttering upon the wind, dwindling in the distance.

It is now hard to see how Obama can offer Iran any credible deal after these setbacks. Can he offer them a stable agreement with Congress in rebellion? Can he give them Palestine after forcing Netanyahu to play the national security card? No and no. At the same time it appears he must let Tehran keep all the earnest payments he optimistically advanced in the hope of that grand bargain.

He can hardly hope to ask for Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria back now that he can't go forward with the rest of the Big Time deal. Obama's like the unfortunate guy who put a payment down on a full house full of appliances in anticipation of a job he was going to get next week. He's spent the whole week blowing his savings reserving the best goods. Now the job's been canceled and those lay-by payments made toward the merchandise in the window are as gone as the job.

It's a tragic outcome, for it makes impossible the one hope which Obama was counting on the save his foreign policy from disaster. The hoped-for bargain with Iran, like the long-awaited Palestinian peace process, filled the same gambler's niche as "Steiner" in the Downfall movie.   Obama was going to recoup everything at the last turn of the card, just you wait and see.  In the movie it was evident once "Steiner" could not march to the relief of Berlin, that the capital was doomed. Where the analogy falls apart is that today's onlookers live inside the reality that Obama has condemned instead of being a dispassionate audience in a theater 60 years later.

The world lives in the administration's foreign policy and Steiner's not going to march to anybody's rescue. No sane person in the West should rejoice at Obama's empty hand, for where exactly does American foreign policy in the region go now? When Obama methodically dismantled the American position in Iraq, he thought perhaps that just as Cortes burned his ships to strand himself in Mexico, the better to irrevocably commit events to his vision, that he could do the same.

Yet sometime in the last 6 years it may have dawned on him that for this strategem to work, you have to be Cortes. And Obama is not Cortes. You have to be competent enough to carry out your March or Die strategy. Now he finds himself unable to reverse course or to move forward.  What Kerry will tell Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or Congress now is fascinating to consider.

It seems probable that American diplomacy will be forced to mark time until 2016 when a new administration takes office. This administration has blown its stack of chips. If the incumbent has any cards left to play it's not clear what they are.


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