Bibi and Obama May Still Have a Bit of Churchill and Roosevelt in Them

There’s still a chance to form an American-Sunni-Israeli alliance to stand up against Tehran.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, October 1, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, October 1, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

At the White House on Wednesday, the man who wanted to be Franklin Roosevelt hosted the man who wanted to be Winston Churchill.

The guest aimed to take advantage of every moment in the Oval Office to talk about Iran, and quite justifiably. By November 24 the negotiations between the six powers and the Shi’ite republic are due to end. If the agreement they yield is one of submission, Iran will sooner or later become a nuclear power.

The disaster wouldn’t occur during Barack Obama’s allotted term as president or Benjamin Netanyahu’s endless term as prime minister, but it would be unprecedented. It would undermine the United States’ standing as a superpower, endanger Israel’s very existence and collapse the world order.

When the man who wanted to be Roosevelt entered the West Wing in January 2009, the Iran issue was already on the table. When the man who wanted to be Churchill entered the Prime Minister’s Office in April 2009, he made Iran a top priority.

Both men had other urgent issues to deal with. Obama faced an economic crisis, health reform, the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war and a deeply divided political landscape. Netanyahu faced an economic crisis, a social protest, a peace process, a missile threat and an inferior political landscape.

But the two were supposed to understand that history would judge them by their ability to prevent a turnabout that cannot be reversed. They were supposed to understand that they must rise above themselves and work together to protect their countries and the free world against the danger of a nuclear Middle East and a nuclear 21st century.

For a while the president and prime minister succeeded. In 2011 and 2012 they acted in a kind of harmony and with considerable efficiency.

But not anymore. The man who wanted to be Roosevelt no longer acts like Roosevelt. He doesn’t want to see the Iranian danger as it is and is seriously considering a compromise with Iran, the implications of which could be catastrophic. And the man who wanted to be Churchill doesn’t act like Churchill. Instead of persuading the U.S. president, seducing him and turning him into an ally, he treats him like an enemy.

Churchill sacrificed the British Empire to enlist America against the Nazis, while Netanyahu prefers to keep the Israeli empire at any cost, and that’s why he’s losing America. His insistence on building more and more foolish settlements is alienating the White House and letting the Iranians build more and more advanced centrifuges.

Netanyahu reads Churchill and talks Churchill, but he’s acting the exact opposite of Churchill. His speeches reflect a dramatic voice in the wilderness, but he doesn’t provide a systematic, creative policy that will avert the calamity.

The man who wanted to be Roosevelt knows by now that he won’t be Roosevelt. The U.S. economy may be reviving, but the social injustice is deepening and the limp performance internationally is onerous. And the man who wanted to be Churchill knows by now that he won’t be Churchill. After deriding the Israeli political shtetl, he has become an inseparable part of it.

But it’s not too late. Iran is vulnerable. There’s still a chance to form an American-Sunni-Israeli alliance to stand up against Tehran. With the right vision and management, it’s still possible to combine a suspension of settlement construction, a strategic partnership with the Arab states and an economic-diplomatic alliance against the ayatollahs.

But to do the right thing Obama must show a little of the leadership that John Kennedy showed, and Netanyahu must show a little of the wisdom that Levi Eshkol showed. Only if they rise above themselves and stand up to the challenge of their times will the two save their legacy.

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