Obama gave his big Middle East speech today. My reaction to it is colored by my suspicion, which I cannot shake, that Obama has largely dialed out of the foreign policy component of the Presidency.
The initiatives he tried to implement in the beginning of his Presidency have all been reduced to a shambles; and rather than rethink his policies, the biggest Brainiac in the Universe has simply shoved the mess aside. Out of sight, out of mind.
My belief is that when he clocked out of directing foreign affairs other elements in his administration began to, in the resulting power vacuum, struggle with each other over the direction of America's policy. I think you see this in the confused response to the Egyptian crisis, then in the dithering and eventual incomprehensible intervention as Europe's lapdog in Libya, and in the US's obvious uncertainty as to what to do in Syria. Even the multiple and conflicting stories that came out of the raid that killed Bin Laden point to multiple sources pushing multiple narratives.
As a result I thought he speech was a bit of a hodgepodge: his Howard Zinn-like understanding of history as a pastiche of exploited fuzzy-wuzzies, mixed with the Clintonista's pro-Arab slant, mixed with the State Department's usual inertia.
With regards to the North African protests a more deft politician, and one who hadn't painted themselves into a corner regarding Iraq, would have moved from the Iraqi experience of blending Shite, Sunni and Kurd, to Egypt's need to protect its minorities (the Copts) to be truly democratic, to Syria which is being ruled by a brutal minority group who are currently mowing down their protesting majority.
Which is to say, a more astute politician would have realized Syria, and not the Palestinians, are the real prize. A Syria detached from Iran is the goal worth aiming towards.
However, Obama is Obama, so he could not resist ending his speech in that graveyard of peace-makers -- the Israel/Palestinian fiasco. And so he laid out the end points for negotiation: a Palestine that recognizes a Jewish Israel and an Israel the commits suicide behind the 1967 borders. Neither position is tenable, and so Obama's speech, like all of his speeches, will be forgotten in a day or two.
Meanwhile Israel will have try to dodge the bullet and to hope for the best in the 2012 elections; the Palestinians will try to rush the borders Gandhi-like, but being Palestinians will never grasp the whole "non-violent" component; the European elite, unaware that their increasingly right-leaning population may rather enjoy the fact that cuffs were slapped on the likes of DSK, will babble about the ICC; and the Arab bloc known as the U.N. General Assembly will recognize Glorious Palestine this autumn just to make the mess complete.
My hope... if your going to give North African's money attach a lot of strings and, with luck, the Palestinian embrace of Iranian-backed Hamas will turn out to be a rug that gets yanked out from underneath them in that Sunni dominated region. WWII is long gone, so too should be the last refugee camps from that era.
In the meanwhile, our foreign policy is still adrift.
"Facts we could not ignore"
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