WASHINGTON - Two figures who are about to close a circle will be meeting Wednesday evening at the White House. George W. Bush has about seven and a half months left in office; Ehud Olmert may have even less.
In American slang, politicians in such condition are referred to as a “lame duck.” The short time they have left in power makes it difficult for them to take long-term decisions. On the other hand, it also frees them of the fear of public opinion polls. They can allow themselves to look straight into the eyes of history, even if only for a moment.
When George-Duck and Ehud-Duck meet Wednesday evening there will be one subject on the agenda: Iran. All other issues do not justify a trip by an Israeli prime minister to Washington less than a month after hosting President Bush in Jerusalem.
The big question hovering above the visit is whether Bush wants and is able to force a military operation in Iran upon his defense establishment, the majority in both Houses of Congress, and American public opinion.
It is doubtful whether such decision, under such circumstances, has a precedent in American history. Almost everything is working against it: The Iranians are not threatening the United States. They are careful about not initiating an incident that would give the Americans a pretext to attack. Such operation has no international support, not openly at least, and most of all, following the entanglement in Iraq most Americans strongly object to opening yet another front in the Middle East and treat any military initiative by Bush with suspicion.
Bush will provide Olmert with advanced anti-missile defense means. Such defense is vital in case of an American or Israeli strike because of the expected counterattack, and it is also vital if there is no strike – in the framework of the effort to deter the Iranians.
Yet these means will not prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons and missile systems that can reach Europe. They will become the region’s most important power, equal only to the US and armed with a belligerent and dangerous ideology.
Bush and Olmert will have no difficulty in agreeing on the severity of the Iranian danger and the need to curb it. It is easy to agree, yet very difficult to curb.
According to the polls, 75% of Americans want the next president to meet with Ahmadinejad, rather than fight him. Among Republican supporters the rate is about 50%. Republican candidate John McCain, who yesterday spoke at the AIPAC conference here in Washington, rejected the prospect of negotiations with Iran. Members of the Jewish lobby applauded enthusiastically, yet political commentators warned
McCain: The voters won’t like it.
Bush will likely ask his friend Olmert what kind of future is expected for him and his government. He will ask gently, sympathetically, while expressing his regret. Olmert will say that he is determined to fight. There are things he cannot stop. There will be primaries in Kadima. Until they are held, he will know more about his legal and public status. Perhaps he will run in the primaries; maybe he won’t run. There will likely be general elections in November. Until then, anything can happen.