Not all politics is local

NOT ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL…. Most of us probably think about domestic political victories and their impact on domestic political standing. But in our media era, and with international observers keeping a close eye on U.S. political developments, the effects of health care reform may be even broader than they appear at first glance.

Laura Rozen and Ben Smith have a terrific item on a part of the debate that’s gone largely overlooked.

When Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu faced off with President Barack Obama over housing in Jerusalem earlier this month, he was facing a distracted American leader whose presidency hung in the balance.

When he goes to the White House on Tuesday night, he’ll find Obama at the moment of his administration’s greatest success, a shift that may affect Obama’s negotiating power in ways both subtle and dramatic.

Obama’s health care victory may prove a decisive pivot point in the way he is viewed both domestically and abroad and in how powerful a negotiator he is perceived to be by foreign leaders. And nowhere is that true more than in Israel, a place obsessed with American politics.

“Every time I met with an Arab diplomat or anyone from the Middle East, including Israelis, they would invariably ask me, ‘How’s health care going?'” said former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who retired in December to become president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. “And the first couple [of] times, I didn’t really realize what they were actually asking. They were asking, ‘How strong is the president of the United States?'”

Global players base their U.S. interactions, at least in part, on their perceptions of presidential standing. If the American head of state is perceived as weak — faltering domestic support, stalled legislative agenda — friend and foe alike will take those cues seriously. If the chief executive is perceived as strong, that matters, too.

And in this case, the world really was watching the U.S. debate over health care reform. Mexican President Felipe Calderone and Saudi King Abdullah actually called Obama yesterday to congratulate him on his policy breakthrough. Rozen and Smith added that a European diplomat suggested success on the White House’s top domestic policy “would quell global doubts about the young American president.”

As this relates to Israel, in particular, Netanyahu’s advisers have been saying, “We just need to wait [Obama] out,” assuming his presidency was in decline, and would end in three years.

Wexler said that if that was the basis for Netanyahu’s thinking, “I think that strategy today is dead.”