Friday, May 20, 2011

Obama's Middle East Speech

For me, the most striking part of Obama's speech (text here) was his adoption of the Bush Doctrine - ie., to push a democracy and freedom agenda in the Middle East. Well, that wasn't striking. To the contrary, that is what he should have been doing from day one. What was striking about it was that he pretended he had been pushing a democracy and freedom agenda all along while no President before him had. He is going to need buckets of white out and barrels of ink to rewrite that much history. What a disingenuous S.O.B.

No administration has been quite so on their heels on foreign policy as has been the Obama administration. Obama's first acts in office were to walk back the Bush administrations democracy / freedom agenda in the Middle East. Obama announced his intentions clearly in the Cairo speech, then followed word with deed, virtually zeroing out the budget for pushing democracy in Iran and cutting the budget in half for pushing democracy in Egypt. When the Green Revolution broke out in Iran, Obama was caught completely flat footed and, like a deer in the headlights, lifted not a finger in support of the Iranian people for months. Obama was similarly in a reactive mode as regards to the Arab Spring that has swept across the Middle East.

Yet in his speech today, in announcing his new democracy and freedom agenda for the region, he described the foreign policy of preceeding administrations as being narrowly limited to "countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel's security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace." This was shameless. Obama gave no mention of the fact that pushing democracy in the Middle East was a Bush administration policy backed with significant funding. Shameless.

Other than that minor detail, there was Obama ignoring the single most important reality of the Middle East - that bin Laden was not an anamoly, but rather a true believer in the Wahhabi dogma, and thus, just the very tip of a massive radical Islamic ice berg. You wouldn't know that from Obama's speech, where he claimed al Qaeda an irrelevancy whose message has been rejected throughout the Islamic world. Hmmmm, maybe he should have checked with Egypt's Copts on that - or the Muslim Brotherhood. Bottom line, Obama's complete failure to engage in the war of ideas as part of the larger war against "radical Islam" insures that our grandchildren will still be fighting the war against Islamic extremists long after we have past into dust.

As to Obama's discussion that Israel-Palestine peace should be based on the 1967 border, subject to modifications necessary for Israel's self-protection, I didn't see anything new or otherwise objectionable in taking that position. My understanding was that Israel has taken the same position on a two-state issue for over a decade. Indeed, I note that Elder of Ziyon has given Obama's speech relatively good marks on his discussion of Palestinian issue. For his part, Charles Krauthammer is a bit more reserved in his judgment, parsing the speech for signs of new, potentially problematic changes in Obama's policy towards Israel. This from Krauthammer:

A lasting peace will involve . . . Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.

Meant to reassure Israelis that the administration rejects the so-called right of return of Palestinian refugees. They would return to Palestine, not Israel — Palestine being their homeland, and Israel (which would cease to be Jewish if flooded with refugees) being a Jewish state. But why use code for an issue on which depends Israel’s existence?

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

A new formulation favorable to maximal Arab demands. True, that idea has been the working premise for negotiations since 2000. But no president had ever before publicly and explicitly endorsed the 1967 lines.

Even more alarming to Israel is Obama’s omission of previous American assurances to recognize “realities on the ground” in adjusting the 1967 border, meaning U.S. agreement that Israel would incorporate the thickly populated, close-in settlements in any land swap. By omitting this, Obama leaves the impression of indifference to the fate of these settlements. This would be a significant change in U.S. policy and a heavy blow to the Israeli national consensus.

The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves . . . in a sovereign and contiguous state.

Normal U.S. boilerplate except for one thing: Obama refers to Palestinian borders with Egypt, Jordan and Israel. But the only Palestinian territory bordering Egypt is Gaza. How do you get contiguity with Gaza? Does Obama’s map force Israel to give up a corridor of territory connecting the West Bank and Gaza? This is an old Palestinian demand that would cut Israel in two. Is this simply an oversight? Or a new slicing up of Israel?

Finally, in calling for both parties to “come back to the table,” the Palestinians have to explain “the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas. . . . How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?”

Not a strong statement about Washington rejecting any talks involving Hamas. A mere placeholder.

On the other hand, Obama made no mention here of Israeli settlements. A mere oversight? Or has Obama finally realized that his making a settlement freeze a precondition for negotiations — something never demanded before he took office — was a disastrous unforced error? One can only hope.

While neither I nor Elder of Zyion saw much objectionable in Obama's statements on the Palestinian issue, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, went into minor nuclear melt down. It appears an overreaction to me, but given how Obama has treated Israel over the past two years, it is at least understandable. At any rate, we will see the real fall-out from this speech in the weeks that come, as Obama, Israel, and PLO/Hamas all try to put their own spin on it.

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