Legacy watch: Israel should beware a wounded Obama

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World Tribune


The lamed U.S. president might well seek to repair his reputation abroad — at Israel’s expense.

The potential consequences of the Republican sweep of the 2014 midterm elections should be neither over-stated nor under-stated, especially with reference to the wounded administration’s policies towards the Middle East in general and Israel in particular.

What is incontestable is that victories in gubernatorial races that were totally unexpected, such as those in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland, all normally heavily Democratic states, as well as further increases in an already large majority in the House of Representatives, indicate a massive shift in public sentiment towards the Democratic Party and particularly towards President Obama. The Administration has lost all claim to popular legitimacy.

What is not so clear is what this will mean in practice. When the Senate reconvenes in January, the Republicans will have 53 or 54 seats out of a hundred, depending on what happens in the Louisiana runoff election next month. That is not enough to cut off debate, which requires sixty votes, and even less so to override presidential vetoes, which requires sixty-seven votes. In other words, despite the election results, the Republicans cannot pass significant legislation unless they have at least a half dozen or more Democratic votes in the Senate, and even then, if the president vetoes any such measures, they are very unlikely to be able to override his veto.

Additionally, this president has in the past six years demonstrated that he is perfectly willing to exceed his constitutional powers and try to govern by executive orders, bypassing Congress. The Supreme Court has struck down more executive orders emanating from the White House since Obama took office than in any other Administration in the same period of time. But by the time a challenge winds its way through the court system to reach the Supreme Court, the bureaucracy will have been executing the executive order, and in some cases, creating faits accomplis in so doing.

Republican control of the Senate is not totally unimportant, of course. Republican control of committee and sub-committee chairmanships will lead to increased hearings and investigations potentially embarrassing to the Administration with reference to the multitude of scandals that have emerged in the past few years. A Republican majority leader will see to it that legislation passed by the House reaches the floor of the Senate, forcing Democratic senators to vote and be held accountable. Democratic Senator Harry Reid as majority leader has prevented Senate consideration of almost 250 bills passed by the House.

Obama’s position has been weakened abroad already, as well as at home. In his post-election trip to the Far East the Chinese government-controlled press referred to his “weakness” and the “banality” of his record as president, and in the official picture of the leaders of the countries attending the APEC meeting, Russia’s Putin was stationed to the right of the Chinese president in the first row and Obama was relegated to the second row.

Nevertheless, it cannot be assumed that Obama is finished. The president no longer has anything to lose over the next two years. He is the lamest of lame ducks, and paradoxically, that fact liberates him from any political constraints except one — if he alienates too many Democratic senators enough might vote with the Republicans on such issues as Iranian and Russian sanctions, support for Ukraine and the Kurds and for Israel, forcing Obama to either acquiesce or veto such measures with the consequent opprobrium.

When President Clinton lost control of the Congress in his first midterm election in 1994 he made major adjustments in his policies and programs. It is unlikely, given his narcissistic personality, that Obama will do the same under similar circumstances.

Israel can look forward in the next two years to a more supportive Congress but also the possibility of facing a wounded president lashing out to try to repair his reputation and create a “legacy”.

Any such attempts at legacy-building is likely to be at the expense of Israel.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C., and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa. This column was also published by Globes, the Israeli business daily.

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The lamed U.S. president might well seek to repair his reputation abroad at Israels expense.