A reader insisted that I must comment on Barack Obama's trip to Israel
. Some comment is "expected," I suppose, but I do so against my better judgment. I do not think anything can be learned about Obama's Israel policy from his remarks while here, and in fact, I don't think anything can be learned about future policies from anyone's campaign rhetoric. Obama's trip is viewed here largely as an election year junket. What he says is about wooing the Jewish vote in the United States and is largely irrelevant as an indication of what he will do once in office.
This fact is broadcast for all to see, as for example in the Washington Post article: Obama working to ensure Jewish vote.
That is what this trip was about, without any doubt. As I have frequently observed, US presidential candidates make many meaningless statements and groundless promises as part of what Dr. Henry Kissinger described as the peculiar American presidential election rite. The election campaign, as Kissinger observed, has nothing to do with later policy making. The advisers and policies of the campaign are often discarded once the candidate is in office. Meaningless commitments to Israeli security, donning of Kippot at the wailing wall and other such manifestations are all part of the baby -kissing routine required for election. The only wonder is that Americans take all this seriously. In this respect, Obama is no better or worse than any other candidate. McCain already had his turn here, and Obama can hardly be expected to promise much less.
For Obama, the Jewish vote in the swing state of Florida may be essential for victory, despite the erratic polls that seem to give him a wider and wider margin against McCain. McCain is a bit too old, his domestic policies are not going to appeal to Jews or most middle of the road Americans, he has no plan for the number 1 domestic American problem today - the economy. His stands on abortion and some other domestic issues serve to alienate "true" Republicans, and likewise to turn away liberals. He isn't getting much funding or support from the GOP, and like Hillary Clinton, he doesn't seem to know how to take advantage of Obama's many gaffs or the plums that fortune occasionally lands in his lap.
A controversial centerpiece of Obama's campaign was the vow to "engage" Iran in order to bring about a solution to the nuclear weapons development impasse. The Bush administration removed the props from this proposition by sending a top negotiator to talks with Iran, yielding absolutely nothing. This greatly increases (or illustrates) the prospects that presidential "engagement" with Iran would be futile and lead to a humiliating rebuff in the best case, or to the enticement of an inexperience president into a deal that sells out both US and Israeli interests. But McCain didn't know how to exploit this gift. He should have made headlines by saying, "We tried Obama's solution for Iran, but it isn't working." Instead he confined his remarks
to the same old, same old. But Obama himself just might succeed in convincing enough people that he is too naive and inexperienced to be president.
If Obama is intent on wooing Jewish voters in Florida, he probably just committed a gaff as big as his waffling statement about divided Jerusalem. Obama's commitment to engagement in the peace process might win approval from Jewish voters who support him anyhow, but it certainly won't allay the fears of those Jews who think he favors the Palestinian cause. Obama revealed his political and foreign policy naivete and illustrated what road is paved with good intentions in an interview with Haaretz:
He would rather dive in and promote the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of existing American initiatives, associates of the U.S. presidential hopeful said Wednesday during his visit to Israel.
"I believe the next U.S. administration should move quickly," Obama told Haaretz.
"I have had in-depth discussions today with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and encouraged all of them to make as much progress as they can in their negotiations this year," the presumptive Democratic Party nominee added. "The next U.S. administration should... help the parties build on the progress that has been made thus far, and continue to work toward the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security."
"Engagement" of this type is about what much of Obama's committed constituency wants. From the political point of view, it is probably anathema to those Jewish voters in Florida who care about the Israel issue enough to make it change their vote. Obama thought he was delivering a moderate and reassuring message, since he insisted that the US would not pressure the sides to accept a US solution. That is indeed more moderate than the stand of certain groups which insist that the US should pressure Israel to make concessions. But it is hardly going to reassure retired vicarious Likud voters in Florida.
Like his "undivided Jerusalem" remarks, Obama's remarks about the peace process show that he doesn't know the issues and the special codes of Middle East diplomacy, and more important, they show that he is clueless about the Israel-oriented constituency in the United States. Support for a two state solution and active involvement in the peace process is not going to appeal to committed right wing pro-Israel voters who are thinking of voting for McCain or staying home. For that matter, the Palestinians do not back "two states for two people's" either, since they refuse to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
From the foreign policy aspect, if Obama is serious, he is in for some big bad surprises. His assertion that the US should move quickly brings one to remind him of who rushes in where angels fear to tread. His plan to "build on the progress made so far" indicates that he just doesn't read newspapers. No real progress toward peace has been made so far, according to every account as well as judging by "facts on the ground." The only "progress" that has been made, has been made by the Hamas who have won an advantageous truce in Gaza, and who are likely to win the Palestinian presidency if elections are held this year. The Palestinian authority has been weakened both by its own pandering to extremists and by Israeli policies, as well as by US incompetence.
Henry Kissinger's book, "The White House Years," was remarkable for its obtuseness about the Vietnam war, which Dr Kissinger seems to have insisted was won by the US owing to his correct and farsighted policies. However, his revelations about Middle East policy are illuminating. It seems that there was always a strong State Department lobby for U.S. "engagement" in Middle East peace diplomacy, even when it was evident that this 'engagement" must prove futile because neither side was willing to make realistic concessions. In his time, the "engagement" lobby forced the futile Rogers and Sisco fiascos and the Jarring mission, all of which came to naught because the Egyptian government was unwilling to meet minimum conditions for peace. Later, when conditions ripened, there was a place for US engagement to produce the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
It is bizarre that Obama has taken up the same cause of "engagement," without taking into account that there cannot be peace without eliminating the Hamas, and without overcoming the obstacles presented by basic Palestinian negotiating positions, reiterated by Mahmoud Abbas, that do not recognize any Israeli rights in Jerusalem and insist on right of return for refugees. The "peace partner" is only marginally less problematic than the "extremist" Hamas. "Moving quickly" in peace negotiations will result in tremendous US pressure for concessions. Those State Department people always want the piece of paper to be signed real soon. In the absence of any flexibility in Palestinian positions, which have essentially remained unchanged and unacceptable since before 2000, either Israel will be forced to accept right of return for refugees and abrogation of rights in Jerusalem or else the negotiations will fail, leaving behind more bitterness in the Arab world at the US for "siding with Israel."
Obama must also take into account that circumstances have changed greatly since the US negotiated a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and since the launching of the Madrid and Oslo processes. The Us economy is shrinking and it is not fresh from a victory in Iraq. In fact, Obama advocates standing down in Iraq, which will inevitably demonstrate the shrinking influence of the US.
However, we probably should not take any of this seriously. We are watching American pop culture at work, rather than the workings of statesmanship. Obama's visit was about photo ops, not substance. Predictably, he made the regulation pilgrimage to Yad Vashem and, par for the course, like John McCain, he showed up at the wailing wall wearing a Kippah.
Elections in the USA are increasingly about pop culture, and Obama has positioned himself as a pop culture idol, complete with swooning females.
The Israeli and Palestinian attitude toward the Obama junket and his remarks was probably summed up best by a Palestinian:
Commenting on Obama's recent statements about his support for a "united Jerusalem", presumably under Israeli control, a senior Palestinian official Wednesday told Haaretz that he advises against taking what presidential hopefuls tell Jewish voters too seriously.
. He got that right, didn't he?
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Replies: 2 Comments
Obamamania, yes, to us in Canada we've seen all this before. In the late 60s we had "Trudeau-mania", and if it sounded a lot like "Beatle-mania" it was no coincidence. Our great Northern Magus had charisma elegance and panache but he was a catastrophe for Canada. In the way he conveyed multiculturalism and bilingualism he left people a way to take its meaning in any way they wanted to, but he set a schism into the country, which has only begun to heal in the past few years. He being an intellectual Jacobin was hostile to our defence establishment and denigrated it with his pacifists siren’s song of Canada’s “peacekeeping mission”. Trudeau was a hypocrite who out of one side of his mouth was the great libertine, but was the only Prime Minister to invoke the War Measures Act, that crushed everyone’s civil rights under a subtle but draconian rule,.
So now we have this charismatic American who is all style with no substance (at least Trudeau reeked of a magisterial competence besides having bon ton in surplus) who on having a terrorist
(or should I say militant construction worker;-)) incident happen in his immediate presence, can turn around and call for a third Arab state, without missing a beat, without a care to visit the victims. Oh this is the smug self-righteous face to the Dictatorship of Virtue, and it ought to be clear where Jewish concerns belong, to the bathhouse, raus
Larry Riteman, Thursday, July 24th
Clue for the clueless - it's not only about the Jewish vote! With the speeches he made in Israel, Obama has assured the American people that he understands the fundamental duties of government and that he is not naive. Obama made it clear he insists that government must provide civil protection to its citizens, that separatist movements legitimately result when it doesn't, that refuge must be provided to persons who are denied civil protection in their countries of origin, and that vigilante capital punishment is not an acceptable response to unwanted immigration, even if the unwanted immigrant is Jewish and the place they immigrated to is in the Middle East.
Obama recognizes that minority oppression is a structural problem requiring structural solutions, and has placed his support for Israel on human rights issues and not on some religious basis - like Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush. This will give him strength and authority when insisting on Israel's right to exist while, if necessary, prodding the Israeli Government to remove the illegal (by Israeli law) settlements and conform to Israel's high court rulings concerning the anti-bomber fence. It will also provide strength to insist that Hamas stop rocket attacks on persons they claim sovereignty over.
That's the kind of leader we need, when dealing not only with the Middle East but also with immigration issues, the rule of law and minority rights here at home. No it doesn't pander to the Jewish vote. It speaks to the American center. Obama somehow gets this. Our press doesn't, foreigners don't either. That's why he has a such a strong shot at the presidency.
OoDevVeteran, Thursday, July 24th
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