Outgoing United States presidents can be a bit petulant. The lame duck period is rarely a productive time for a president, and through the course of four to eight years they undoubtedly make some enemies they would like to payback.
Sometimes this petulance is directed at a successor, the most trivial case being petty office vandalism of the out-going employees of the President Clinton administration and the most manifestly irresponsible case being the dumping of U.S. troops in Somalia by the out-going President George H.W. Bush to bolster his own image in the wake of electoral defeat and throw a live grenade into Clinton’s lap.
President Barack Obama, by all accounts, appears to be doing all he can to help his successor make the transition. Instead, it seems that Obama is saving his wrath for those he quite reasonably believes screwed him during his term as president: Israel and Russia.
Last Friday, the U.S. abstained from a vote at the United Nations Security Council on a resolution that condemned Israel’s illegal settlement building in the West Bank. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the US could have vetoed the motion to ensure it did not pass—something the U.S. has consistently done prior and during Obama’s presidency with other resolutions targeting Israel.
While the White House defended the abstention and Secretary of State John Kerry followed up with an exhaustive speech on the virtues of the two-state solution, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a rather strong case that the move was meant chiefly to embarrass Israel and him, not to help the peace process.
The Obama Administration made it clear after the vote that any attempts to sanction Israel would be vetoed, making the entire effort moot if the point was to use the UN to pressure Israel into making concessions or a general deal with the Palestinians.
Obama had good reason to kick Prime Minister Netanyahu in the pants. Netanyahu had walked all over Obama during his presidency, smearing him in the press and even taking the unprecedented step of denouncing President Obama in a speech before the U.S. Congress.
Prime Minster Netanyahu has subsequently accused Obama of helping engineer the resolution, which has now been denied by the Obama Administration.
The Israeli government claims it has proof of the Obama Administration’s involvement in drafting and promoting the resolution, and will provide it to President Trump.
In any case, there’s little doubt President Obama had a smile on his face watching Netanyahu squirm before the cameras as he struggled to explain to his people and the world why the UN successfully voted to condemn Israel and, by extension, his government.
President Obama’s relationship with Russia has been equally problematic. There’s little evidence Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have the kind of bitter animosity between them Obama and Netanyahu have. Nonetheless, the gamesmanship has been intense.
After a now much maligned “reset,” the Obama Administration proceeded to irritate Russia, first overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddfi in Libya in 2011, then backing a coup in Ukraine in 2014. The Obama Administration has also been flooding Syria with U.S. money and guns as part of an ongoing effort to overthrow Russia-allied Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia has responded by jamming the Obama Administration all over the world, especially in Syria, where Russia has effectively work to sideline the U.S. Russia is allegedly part of an effort to damage the Democratic Party through hacking the DNC and Clinton confidant John Podesta and turning the information over to Wikileaks—something that so far remains unproven and has been explicitly denied by Wikileaks.
In the final analysis, these actions by President Obama on both Israel and Russia are likely to go nowhere. Obama’s successor has signaled his sympathy with both countries and appears poised to take a completely different position than Obama. But, it probably felt good to get some payback before it all comes to an end.