This is the Middle East after all, and muscle flexing goes a long way. A very long way.
This is not Europe. Today, as I was reading this very interesting Washington Post op-ed by 3 former US ambassadors to Ukraine, I saw yet another great example of how the two regions are so vastly different – in terms of perceptions of strength.
The Russians have sent forces into Ukraine, and are even blocking Ukrainian ships from docking at their own port. And what advice do these gentlemen offer in their op-ed? Restraint. And they are right. In the context of that conflict, restraint is important. It also shows strength, because you are letting the other side fall into the trap of starting the war, even at the expense of seeing foreign troops enter your country.
But not here. Not in the Middle East. Another sovereign nation send forces into your territory? If you don’t react then you are seen as weak. The worst option is not responding militarily to such a move, even if it means that you are seen as the one who started the conflict. And once you are perceived as being “weak” then all sorts of things could happen. Your neighbours might start challenging you. And if you are a dictatorship, then your public could start thinking:”our tough leaders? they are not as tough as we thought”. And before you know it they may start challenging your rule domestically.
What does all this have to do with Obama?
In Europe, he may be seen as being cautious and clever by not showing his military and economic teeth in a more hostile manner, but in the Middle East, he will be seen as “weak”. As the man who blinked twice. Or worst, someone who may not be a reliable ally in case you are under attack.
George Bush did very little when Georgia was attacked by Russia in August 2008. But that didn’t impact his image in this region, because he was perceived as being strong by his allies. Why? Because of his preference for the military option, which he showed on many occasions.