In the White House there is a small movie theater available to the president and his family. One of the films presidents often watch is the classic western "High Noon," starring Gary Cooper.
A criminal and his gang threaten the life of an entire town. A marshal tries to elicit help for war from the townspeople. They turn him down, fearing for their lives, and hope for a compromise with the gang leader. He decides to fight the bad guys on his own and kills them one by one, with a little help from his war-hating wife, played by Grace Kelly.
The film was produced in 1952, while America waged a tough war against Korea. Its moral was simple, and well connected to the American heritage: You don’t compromise with evil – you destroy evil. Even when the street thinks otherwise. An American hero never escapes.
Barack Obama is not Gary Cooper, and America of 2013 is not America of 1952. On Thursday, Obama was forced to convene an embarrassing press conference, in which he announced the failure to implement the health insurance plan, which was meant to be the highlight of his presidency. The failure turned Obama into a bleeding president. Without a miracle, he and his party will suffer a blow in the House of Representatives elections next November.
The internal weakening is leaking out. The decline in the United States' status in the world, and particularly in the Middle East, is already evident. Saudi Arabia is moving to French patronage, and sees Obama as an existential enemy, almost an Iranian agent; Egypt is looking for friends in Russia; in the talks with Iran, the French foreign minister is the fighting, influential factor, not the American secretary of state. The French were shocked when Obama reneged on his decision to attack Syria at the last minute. They are refusing to adopt his soft policy towards Iran.
The problem does not come down to one president, or one project. American politics is ill, the American economy can no longer fulfill the dreams it fulfilled in the past, and the American society is finding it difficult to adapt to the new reality. For 50 years, historians have been talking about America's decline – and being proven false. They may not have been wrong – just premature.
On this background, there is no reason to be alarmed when the Israeli prime minister launches an open conflict with the Obama administration over Iran. Indeed, our Bibi isn't Gary Cooper either, and it's a shame that he tends to excessively puff up the chest he doesn't have. But as long as the Israeli prime minister fights for what is perceived as an Israeli security interest, he should not suffer any damage in the United States.
Ariel Sharon delivered his "Munich speech" at the White House, a speech in which he implied, without any real foundation, that President Bush was abandoning Israel to its enemies, and Israel suffered no damage; there is no reason it should suffer damage just because its prime minister is fighting for a firmer policy in the talks with Iran. If Netanyahu believes that his speeches will lead to a military operation in Iran, he is living in illusions. Even if Israel has the ability – a doubtful matter in itself – it has no military option as long as the negotiations are taking place; as for the Americans, they have no interest in blowing up the negotiations, and a military operation is not something they want.
Now he can leaveAn agreement should be reached: It's preferable to the ongoing development of nukes. Israel is not Saudi Arabia, whose rivalry with Iran covers everything – religious wars of Shiites versus Sunnis, the development of oil fields, competition over areas of influence in the Persian Gulf, the survival of the government in the two countries.
Israel has a different interest here, and no other: The nukes. So we can carefully welcome the signs for a slowdown in the project's progress as noted in the IAEA report Thursday. It may just be a trick, and it may not.
The important thing is the content of the agreements: The temporary agreement, which is meant to freeze some of the activity in exchange for easing some of the sanctions, and the final agreement are highly significant. Let us not delude ourselves: The Iranians will not bomb the centrifuges they purchased for billions, will not bury the reactors, will not dismantle the missiles. The huge Iranian investment in the project will not go up in flames. But the more the agreements keep Iran away from a nuclear military ability, the better.
The liberal press of the East Coast, newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, blasted Netanyahu this week over the Iranian issue. It's unpleasant, but it's far from being terrible. The majority of the American public opinion appears unfazed: It either has no interest in the Iranian nukes at the moment, or shares Netanyahu's opinion. And Obama shouldn't be bothered either: He has much more annoying problems.
The problem is that Netanyahu is unable to focus on one conflict. Every declaration he and his ministers make about settlement construction sabotages his ability to convince foreign leaders to toughen up on Iran. Two weeks ago, when he released prisoners, he panicked at the Right's response and announced construction in the territories; this week, when he was more troubled by the talks with Iran, he staged a reprimanding conversation with the housing minister.
Giving Uri Ariel, the most radical politician in the Knesset, the Housing Ministry is like letting the wolf eat up Little Red Riding Hood, letting the fox guard the chicken coop. Ariel could have been quite a good health minister, perhaps a sports minister or the minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee. But housing? The prime minister who appointed him has only himself to complain to.
The last scene in the film "High Noon" is unforgettable. A moment after the marshal, Will Kane (Gary Cooper), kills the last criminal, the townspeople emerge from their homes and approach him. No one says a word. Kane throws his marshal's star on the ground, takes his wife and boards the wagon which carries them to the horizon. There is no preaching. There are no words of farewell. He saved the town, despite its cowardice, despite its hypocrisy. Now he can leave.
The last words, and them only, are embraced by Obama with both his arms.