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Has Netanyahu Switched His Strategy for the 2012 US Presidential Election?

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If you want a particularly hard-headed assessment of how successfully Barack Obama, the most vulnerable president in memory, is pursuing his reelection campaign, don’t bother to check the polls; just read “Bibi” Netanyahu’s U.N. speech of last week.  The Israeli Prime Minister had, until then, all but campaigned for Mitt Romney, his old Boston Consulting Group pal, who claims Obama has thrown Israel “under the bus.”

Suddenly, he essentially switched sides.  Having pounded the Obama administration for weeks on its Iran nuclear policy and its need to set “red lines” before the election, having implicitly threatened an Israeli air force “October surprise,” he turned out to have a September surprise of his own. He hoisted a bizarre and confusing drawing of a cartoon bomb in front of the General Assembly and essentially announced that his red-line demands had just pinked-out, and that 2013 was time enough to worry about red-lining Iran.  (“By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage,” he explained.)

Though it’s not been treated this way, this calculated change of geopolitical heart, undoubtedly driven by a faltering Romney campaign and the fear of totally alienating an Obama heading into a second term, was also an election story about energy.  After all, whatever the talk about future U.S. “energy independence,” what happens to Middle Eastern oil is crucial to the price at the gas station nearest you (which has been on the rise all fall).  So when Netanyahu ratchets down the threats to Iran (that is, the promise of even greater chaos in the oil heartlands of the planet), he potentially does the same with oil prices.  If the Saudis suddenly decide to pump more oil into the global economy and so depress the price of oil -- assumedly to similar effect before November 6th -- you get another vote for the reality of Obama’s reelection.

Consider it the strangest election-season alliance of convenience around: Obama, Netanyahu, and Saudi King Abdullah.  And to this there’s a grim corollary, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left, makes clear today in his “The New ‘Golden Age of Oil’ That Wasn’t.”  Despite a spate of proclamations that North America is heading for future energy independence, you can count on one thing energy-wise: presidential candidates in the years to come aren’t going to be worrying about the Canadian prime minister or the Brazilian president in the way they’ll continue to fret about the Israelis, Saudis, and Iranians.

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