An alarmed assistant entered Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's office one day and informed him that Labor Party candidates had won the student union elections. "Excellent," Shamir responded. "Now the snakes will grow there."
Barack Obama, most likely, hasn't heard about Shamir's punch line, but in practice that's what his foreign policy is based on. After Iraq, after Afghanistan, after the disappointment from the results of his speech at Cairo University, after the revolutions and internal wars which followed the Arab Spring, Obama is leaving the snake breeding to others. If Putin insists on managing Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal, let him enjoy it: Syria will be his headache from now on. America has moved aside: It will no longer be the world's policeman; it will no longer be the world's fool, the world's sucker.
Obama is not the first American president trying to turn his back on the world. Many preceded him. The exceptional thing in his case is the course he took: Presidents usually hope at the beginning of their term to create miracles within America, and are gradually dragged, something willingly, sometimes under compulsion, into foreign issues. Bush Jr. was a remarkable example: Until the attack on the World Trade Center he showed no real interest in what was going on outside the continent's boundaries. The wars he went on following Bin Laden defined his presidency.
Obama took the opposite course: He began with great aspirations in the foreign policy, and gradually withdrew back home. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which gave him the Nobel Peace Prize at the begging of his first term, selected him just because his name wasn't Bush. That concluded and concludes, for now, his contribution to world peace.
This void was entered by Vladimir Putin. His starting points are good: He has ambition; he has money and weapons; he has no opposition or restricting conditions at home. He proves to heads of state on a daily basis that, as opposed to Obama, he is loyal to his allies and acts as a bitter rival towards their enemies. Obama is wriggling between Morsi and al-Sisi; Putin never wriggles. Those who have missed the Cold War era, in which two rival world powers nurtured satellite countries, are welcoming Putin's ambition with open arms.
Big brother has his own interestsObama's inward alignment falls into line with the state of mind of large parts of the American public opinion. That doesn’t mean his conduct is winning praise. Hawkish rightists are attacking what they perceive as weakness, softness, escaping responsibility, un-American behavior; those interested in foreign policy are anxiously watching the renewal of the Cold War; the liberal Left is troubled by Obama's indifference in light of the massacre of civilians and serious violations of human rights. Everyone is bothered by the gap between rhetoric and action.
This week will be filled with diplomatic headlines. Iranian President Rohani will arrive at the UN General Assembly in New York, where he will continue his peace offensive and receive applause everywhere; Obama will also be in New York. They may meet. Even if they don't meet, messages will be relayed. There will be a feeling that the crisis with Iran is behind us. Early next week Netanyahu will arrive and explain that the nuclear project still stands, and so the crisis still stands. There is no Iranian moderation – just public relations. The world will refuse to be impressed. It's convenient to let Iran reach the nuclear threshold, hoping it will stop there.
A renewed Middle East is being formed, one which is divided into satellites of two rival world powers and regimes which are being threatened from the inside, with a cold American president who is neck-deep in internal issues, a determined and uninhibited Russian president, an enigmatic and manipulative Iran, and a weak and disintegrated European Union.
It won't be easy for Israel to move around in this maze. For generations the entire neighborhood knew that we have a big brother who will come down the moment we cry for help. Now the big brother wants to look after his own interests.