Leaving Mars, Obama Repivots Toward Venus

The president is projecting American power through diplomacy rather than military force, to the bewilderment of U.S. allies.

Just over ten years ago, in an acclaimed article that popularized the phrase, "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus," Robert Kagan captured the widely held view on the differences between the two transatlantic partners. In his explanation, the Americans are powerful and ready to project and use force, while the Europeans had given up military power in favor of diplomacy and engagement in dealing with international problems.

However, developments since the eruption of the Arab uprisings at the end of 2010 have cast doubt on the accuracy of this cosmic distinction. Some Americans, certainly including current U.S. President Obama, have travelled from Mars to Venus. Equally, some Europeans, such as the current and former French presidents, have made their way to Mars.

It is now clear that President Obama is averse to using American military force beyond sending drones for the targeted killing of individuals involved in terrorism. Granted, in cases where he might have or should have used force, the political results would have been murky, even if the military operations were successful. The use of military force in Syria, limited to the goal of establishing a no-fly zone, would not have necessarily stopped the fighting on the ground, the entry of thousands of jihadists to Syria, or the continued flight of thousands of new Syrian refugees on a daily basis.

The military option in the case of the Iranian nuclear sites would, even if fully successful, have had ripple effects far beyond Iran itself. However, the American president has signaled a strong reluctance to even threaten the use of force to the extent that this is weakening U.S. deterrence and the security of its allies, all his statements to the contrary notwithstanding. The unmistakable signs of its allies’ crisis in confidence in the U.S. must certainly embolden the country’s enemies.

The French leadership appears to be trying to fill in the gap left by the U.S. In Libya, the U.S was reluctantly dragged into the operation, defining its action as "leading from behind." In Syria, America was contemplating only an "unbelievably small" operation. These are not the words of a Martian leader. Compare this to the French presidents, who initiated the military operation in Libya, called for a military operation in Syria when it was clear that chemical weapons were used by the Damascus regime, sent forces to Mali, and stood up against a deal full of holes with Iran. It is true that, when the French or British call for the use of force, they mean mostly U.S military forces, but they have also sent their own forces to fight faraway battles. British soldiers have died in both Iraq and Afghanistan in wars their government had not initiated. Not exactly Venusian behavior.

Mars? Venus? Allies of the U.S. are bewildered. The Russians, who were kicked out of Egypt in 1972, are now being given there the red carpet treatment. The French president is received as a hero in Israel, despite that country’s continued anger toward Charles De Gaulle, who imposed a devastating arms embargo on Israel. Chinese weapon systems are suddenly being considered by U.S. allies in the Middle East.

President Obama is not the only American migrating from Mars to Venus. The American people are largely with him. He was elected because he promised them the journey. The French president may find himself one of very few Frenchmen travelling to Mars. One thing is certain – when he gets there, he'll find the true Martian: Russia’s President Putin.

Dr. Oded Eran was Israel’s ambassador to Jordan and the European Union. He is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv.

Yoel Guzansky worked on the Iran file in Israel’s National Security Council. He is also a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv. 

Reuters