If you are a foreign policy analyst, newspaper editor, pundit or just political junkie like myself, the last few days have been a real treat. From 19 May to 24 May, two world leaders – one the leader of the world’s only superpower and the other the leader of the world’s most historic people – made speeches, held press conferences and addressed some of the most influential and powerful political bodies in the world. There is a school of thought that says history is best understood by examining its records: treaties, laws and speeches. Whether one accepts this belief or not, the speeches made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been a model of historical consistency.
It began on 19 May. President Obama made a major foreign policy address at the US State Department (see https://themiddleeasthotspot.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/cairo-ad-nauseum/). He stated, in short, that the 1967 borders of Israel should be the future borders of a Palestinian state. This has long been a demand of the Palestinian Authority and its predecessor, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). To be fair, ever since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 it has been tacitly acknowledged that a Palestinian state would exist somewhere inside those borders. However, President Obama’s remarks crossed a line that no previous American president had: he publicly endorsed a key demand of the Palestinian Authority – and just days before the Israeli Prime Minister was due to arrive in the US.
Netanyahu’s office released a reply the same day, and battle lines were drawn. The Prime Minister’s response foreshadowed the themes that would be repeated and expanded upon in three more speeches over the coming days. First, any future Palestinian state would not come about at the expense of Israel’s security: Israel would not withdraw to the 1967 borders. Second, major Israeli population centers beyond the 1967 lines would be incorporated into Israel’s final borders. Third, that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would be within Palestinian borders, not Israel’s. There would be no “right of return.”
The Prime Minister also showed some of his card-playing skills in the press release of 19 May. It mentioned commitments made by a previous US president in 2004 and alluded to the overwhelming support of both US Houses of Congress. If President Obama reneges on the commitments of former President George W. Bush, what credibility does President Obama or any future American president have? Moreover, while he may be the leader of the world’s only superpower, President Obama still must contend with a US House of Representatives and US Senate that are in the hands of his Republican opposition.
Two days later, these same men sat together for several hours and discussed the status of American-Israeli relations, the stalled peace talks, and wider developments in the region. At their joint press conference afterwards, the Prime Minister returned to and expanded on the themes his office annunciated just two days earlier. “Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace,” but would not accept the indefensible 1967 borders. He stated quite clearly that Israel’s pre-1967 geography precluded any possibility of this. In addition, he stated very forcefully, “we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.” He didn’t say “we would like to have” or “it would be a good idea,” but decisively, we are going to have it.
Perhaps to allay concerns that a major rift was growing between the two allies, Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the President’s statement regarding Hamas. Scorning it as “the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda” (see https://themiddleeasthotspot.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/pity-poor-president-obama/) he indicated that Israel could not be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization. Only weeks before, Hamas terrorists had killed a teenage boy with a deliberate rocket attack on a school bus and then condemned America for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Finally, echoing his statement of 19 May, the Prime Minister said, “the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state” not within Israel’s borders. He also raised, perhaps for the first time by an Israeli prime minister, the issue of Jewish refugees. It is little known outside of Israel, but in the period from 1948-1952 Israel absorbed over 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states. People who had been stripped of almost all of their possessions and subjected to dictates reminiscent of the recently defeated Nazi Germany.
On 24 May, the Prime Minister forcefully repeated Israel’s position in front of a partisan audience at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference. He evoked the shared commitment to democracy and liberty, reminding those assembled that the ideas of all mean being “created in God’s image, that no ruler is above the law, that everyone is entitled to justice” originated in biblical Israel. These ideas are finally coming to the Arab world, he said, noting the unrest that has rocked the region and toppled two Arab autocrats. Pointing out that the region’s problems are not rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in the lack of freedom in the Arab world, he proclaimed, “Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
Finally on the same day, Benjamin Netanyahu had the rare privilege, although it was the second time he has enjoyed such an honor, of addressing a joint-session of the US Congress. Immediately, he played his “Congress card” saying, “And I do see a lot of old friends here. And I do see a lot of new friends here. Democrats and Republicans alike.” The message was clear: my support in your Congress, unlike yours, President Obama, is deep and bipartisan. Applause interrupted the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech more than they had interrupted the President’s State of the Union address four months earlier. Later on in his speech, he would thank President Obama for leading the international effort to impose sanctions on Iran, and pointedly thanked Congress for passing “even tougher sanctions.”
Once again, he noted the region’s turbulence, the “epic battle” unfolding “between tyranny and freedom” and reminded America’s congressional representatives that the outcome of this battle is never certain. Indeed, twice it was lost in the region: in Iran in 1979 and Lebanon in 2010. He made a point that, “Of the 300 million Arabs” in the region, only the one million in Israel “enjoy real democratic rights.” He could have easily added that if there was freedom of press in the Arab world, his words would ring true in every home from Sudan to Syria, from Algeria to Oman.
Again, he clearly stated Israel’s policies: ‘yes’ to a Palestinian state, ‘no’ to the 1967 borders. Israel will incorporate major settlement blocs into its final borders, including Jerusalem. The Palestinian refugee problem will be solved within the context of a Palestinian state, not within the borders of Israel. Finally, that the Palestinian state that emerges will be demilitarized, and that Israel will maintain a long-term military presence in the strategic Jordan River valley.
Over all, President Obama’s remarks on the Middle East and North Africa were a blend of idealism and pragmatism. These are two concepts that seldom are able to coincide at the same time in the same place. A full two-thirds of his speech addressed the much-heralded “Arab Spring” that has seen two authoritarian regimes swept away, and as many as a half-dozen others challenged. The president admitted that this movement was incomplete and its ultimate outcome still uncertain. Yet, as a world power, the US has no choice but to weigh in on the changes taking place. It is thus regrettable that he clothed pragmatic policies in the garb of idealism: when the emperor’s clothing is stripped away, he will be just as naked as he was before.
Let’s begin with his choice of venue for stating the supposedly new American policies. He acknowledged this rapprochement with the Arab world began nearly two years ago in Cairo. However, his remarks of 19 May came from Foggy Bottom – the US State Department in Washington, D.C. There is good reason for this: there is no Arab capital of significance that could or would host him.
Demonstrations, the threat of violence and civil war stalks the streets of Amman, Jordan. There a minority Hashemite regime rules over a population that is 70% Palestinian. Baghdad – trumpeted in his speech as a growing success – is still subject to daily terrorist violence, Iranian subversion and on-going destruction of that country’s ancient Christian community. Cairo? Cairo is where the US abruptly pulled the rug out from under an authoritarian regime. One might expect Obama to return to the site of this success, except that the most future of Egypt is most likely to put his new policies to shame before the end of the year. What about Damascus? Could the President of the US really make a speech championing “universal rights” and “democracy” to the staccato sound of machine guns cutting down unarmed civilians?
Next, Obama ticked off a series of successes: Iraq, Afghanistan and the “huge blow” dealt to al Qaeda “by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden. Let us examine these so-called successes. “Success” in Iraq has been marked by the decline of sectarian violence (among Muslims) to the point where only a couple score are killed every month instead of a couple hundred being killed every month.
Obama claimed that the Taliban’s momentum has been broken, yet just last week the Taliban launched their annual Spring Offensive – a ritual among them that started over twenty years ago when the enemy was the occupying Soviet Union. The combination of America’s distaste for long-term fighting, combined with the corruption-riddled regime installed in Kabul, will ultimately result in a Taliban victory. In that area of the world, the most committed win. Obama has already committed to withdrawal.
As for Osama bin Laden, yes, this is a victory of sorts. Justice long-delayed was finally served. Nonetheless, for many Muslims – both Arab and non-Arab – his assassination was another reminder of America’s power. For many in the region, bin Laden’s death was reminiscent of the targeted assassinations that Israel has used for years against terrorist leaders of the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah. Make no mistake; his assassination was a legitimate act of self-defense. Unfortunately, the president chose to dress it up as part of his campaign to assure “democracy and individual rights for Muslims.” This begs the question: why does the current president of the world’s only superpower need to clothe legitimate policies in the tattered rags that a president tried so unsuccessfully to sell thirty years ago?
The idealism masks a cold stark truth: what Obama is attempting to sell is nothing more than what a predecessor attempted to sell. Democracy, universal rights, the emancipation of women, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom for minorities were all part of the Carter’s agenda. Obama believes that America’s economic and security interests will be best served if the Arab world is at least philosophically aligned with the US, as well as economically and militarily. The fly in the ointment – the same fly that George W. Bush discovered by the end of his tenure – is that such an alignment is out of the question.
Obama, like Carter before him, ignores the facts. Democracy as it is practiced from Washington east to Warsaw, and Washington west to Tokyo, developed over the course of centuries. In almost every nation in which democracy has taken roots there is a cultural heritage serving as a foundation. This cultural legacy itself dates back nearly twenty-five centuries. To expect the Arab world, and larger Muslim world, to hurdle this learning curve in a mere decade or two is completely unrealistic. As idealists usually are.
Obama expects the Arab and broader Islamic world to embrace democracy, universal rights, the emancipation of women, freedom of speech for all, freedom of assembly for all and freedom for minorities because it is in their long-term best interests. That may be so; reams of economic and sociological data may support it. However, the bottom line is that he is saying to the Arab world, ‘my political philosophy is superior to yours, so I will help you adopt it.’ This is, at best, paternalistic.
At worst, his policies are not merely paternalistic, but down right imperialist. He simply dresses them in the costume of “universal rights.” Less than a year ago there was reason to celebrate as the citizens of Lebanon elected a western-oriented coalition. However, the US and Europe failed to support that coalition. Today, Lebanon is firmly in the clutches of Hezbollah – a Shi’ite Muslim fundamentalist movement – and a satellite of Iran. Lebanon has no energy reserves, no mineral reserves and no strategic value for the US and Europe: sacrificing Lebanon was easy. On the other hand, Bahrain has petroleum reserves, Yemen sits on one end of the Red Sea and Egypt holds the Suez Canal at the other end.
Of course, it is just as well that President Obama ignored the facts. He identified the “failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people” as feeding the suspicion “that the United States pursues our interests at their expense.” Furthermore, that “a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.” Implicit in this statement is the ideological position that it is the US that is responsible for Arab (read “Muslim”) anger and hatred. This is despite the fact that Islam looks down on all other religions as subservient, and has done so for fifteen centuries – before universal rights – a product of Western philosophy – existed.
President Obama would like to have his cake and eat it too. He discards the pieces of historical fact that do not fit his ideological puzzle. “Universal rights” are the whole cloth meant to conceal America pursuit of its economic and security priorities. A clear statement that America has, and will continue, to act in accordance with its own priorities would have certainly been out-of-the-question. A superpower also bears the burden of discretion. Mr. Obama would have done much better to take a page out of President Theodore Roosevelt’s book: speak softly and carry a big stick.
8 January 2010-01-08
The US is engaged in a war against terrorism that its current President, Barack Hussein Obama, neither understands nor wants to fight. Islamic-Fascists worldwide know this. It is why the Taliban has gained ground in Afghanistan. It is why Al Qaeda-linked groups have popped up and flourished like weeds in Somalia and Yemen. It is why Hezbollah – the “Party of God” – although rejected by Lebanese voters now dictates Lebanon’s defense and foreign policies. It is why Iran continues to violate UN resolutions and develop weapons pf increasing range and lethality.
Any one of these events occurring in isolation could be dismissed: the world is a big place and the US can’t be everywhere. This is also something that terrorists and terror-sponsoring states realize. It takes months for the US to mount just one effective military operation. Months, and tens of billions of dollars (which are in short supply). Months, tens of billions of dollars and thousands of men (which are also in short supply). And when the US President dismisses the severity of terrorism, it only makes it that much more difficult to marshal these resources.
The attacks in Fort Hood, Texas and the near repeat of a 9/11 type of event only underscore the fact that Obama is not just playing catching up, he has yet to enter the game. Critics like to dismiss George W. Bush’s swaggering and go-it-alone foreign policy, however after 9/11 there were no successful attacks on US soil. Barack Hussein Obama’s first year in office has seen one successful attack and one near-calamity. America: brace yourself for Obama Year 2!
A blogger recently commented that Obama’s foreign policy approach is a blending of two traditions in the Democratic Party: the Jeffersonian and the Wilsonian. In the early 21st century, it is a mistake – a deadly mistake – to look back 100 or 200 years for inspired foreign policy. The world has changed too much, weapons have become too powerful, and men like Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson had the intelligence to recognize when the rules of the game had changed. If they were alive today, both men would immediately recognize that the foreign policies of by-gone centuries only contain the seeds for their own destruction.
Jeffersonian foreign policy was based on the simple premise that America was a young democracy surrounded by monarchies intent on empire. It had few resources in the early 1800s. The best course was to limit America’s foreign commitment and involvement. Wilson envisioned a world at peace, a League of Nations whose mission it was to better mankind. America would lead by being a shining example of democracy, freedom and tolerance.
Today, America is an old democracy increasingly surrounded by communist kleptocracies, military dictatorships, pseudo-democracies, and Islamic fundamentalists. It is dependent on many of these countries for vital energy and mineral resources. Obama, courtesy of the Cold War, has inherited a worldwide empire of military bases and security commitments. And far from being a shining example of anything (except perhaps of a disillusioned populace) its financial and industrial might is crippled; its democratic institutions up for sale to the highest bidder.
Barack Hussein Obama was elected on a platform of change and hope: he has brought neither. His first year and office has been a failure. Enemies have been emboldened and key allies weakened and made mistrustful of American direction. For any chance at salvaging the next three years, let alone his legacy, he must discard ideas that no longer have any merit and embrace the reality of the challenge that Western Civilization faces!
As all good bloggers are accustomed to doing, I have multiple methods of keeping track of the number of “hits” my postings receive. First, there is the stat-tracking on the blog’s host site. Second, there are the automatic notifications from the discussion boards on which I post links. Third, there is my friend Frank. Frank often tells me how bad (the term he often uses is “POS!”) such a particular piece was.
Recently, it seemed that a lot of older postings were receiving increased hits, and I wondered why. Perhaps the holiday season had caused them to reflect on the state of humanity? Could it be that people had suddenly taken an interest in world affairs? Or was it more likely that a string of terrorist attacks – I refuse to use the Obama administration’s epithet “extremists” – had jarred people of their “historical moment” infatuation with Barack Hussein Obama?
Had they suddenly realized what a terrible mistake they just might have made that fateful first Tuesday in November 2008? Yes, I think they are beginning to realize that.
BHO came to office with no real plan to govern. He had no idea how to fix the economy, no I idea how to fix America’s healthcare crisis, no idea how to stop global warming, and certainly not even a gram’s worth of sense as far as foreign policy is concerned.
Let’s be fair. No one really has an idea how to fix the economy; it has never been broken like this before. America’s healthcare system is a mess, but one that could easily be solved by eating at McDonald’s ten fewer times each week and exercising. The demise of the world’s economies has at least delayed the melting of the polar icecaps. However, the Middle East is more than the Arab-Israeli conflict.
President Obama’s simplistic reduction of the matter to one of Palestinian statehood obscures numerous problems. Oil wealth is not evenly distributed and the have’s are not sharing with the have-not’s. There is a burgeoning demographic crises, with the number of 18-24 year olds increasing. This demographic is the cannon-fodder for extremist movements. There is the conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, 14 centuries in the making. Arab, Persians and Turks have been fighting for dominance over the region for almost the same period of time.
I have tried numerous times to parse President Obama’s foreign policy vis-à-vis this region. Is he truly simplistic and naïve? Does he hold the view that the US cannot continue to act as the world’s policeman? Is he just trying to keep the lid on the pot? All of these explanations may be true; none of them may be. One certainty is, that after a year in office he has accomplished little, excepting reducing America’s standing with allies and bolstering the prestige of its enemies.
Just six more months until US President Barack Obama’s misguided peace initiatives stop. Why six months? Mid-term elections in the US, that’s why. Memorial Day weekend at the end of May 2010 will signal the start of the referendum on Obama’s presidency.
The Republican’s will pull out all the stops in order to maintain the balance in the Senate and trim the Democrats’ majority in the House of Representatives. The GOP will certainly beknocking on a lot of Jewish doors in states like California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Large Jewish populations that have been less than thrilled with his feeble attempts to twist Israel’s arm while sucking up to demagogues, dictators and tyrants in the Arab world.
Democrats will need Obama on the campaign trail with them. They need to “rousing message of hope” to buy them one more precious term grazing at the public trough. So, the Obaminator will have less time to spend bowing and scraping to Saudi Arabia, less time to hold Hosni Mubarak’s shaky hand, less time to play checkers with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The consolation being that he’ll still be in the lime-light that he so dearly loves!