Those supporters of Israel
who reacted to the Obama presidency as if it was the combination of the May laws of Tsarist Russia and the election of Adolph Hitler have not been proven correct. Likewise, the Hamas groupies who looked forward to a final victory over the "Israel lobby" have yet to see any results, though many are still hopeful, like Francis Matthew
. The first hundred days of the Barack Obama presidency have produced no revolutions in U.S.-Israel relations.
The Obama administration has not done much different from the Bush administration. The Bush administration insisted Israel
must not strike Iran. The Obama administration insists Israel
must not strike Iran. The Bush administration insisted on a two state solution. The Obama administration insists on a two state solution. The Bush administration bawled out Israel
for settlement activities. The Obama administration bawls out Israel
for settlement activities. The Bush administration did not nothing effective to stop Iranian nuclear development. The Obama administration is doing nothing effective to stop Iranian nuclear development. No settlers have been unsettled because of Obama administration pressure.
Thus far, the "Obama pressure on Israel" is mostly a non-story, like the dog that didn't bark in the night. It may be fueled by the wishful thinking of anti-Israel (or anti-Israel pro-Israel) groups like J-Street, by the fears of certain supporters of Israel, and by occasional remarks of people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, who are always good for advice about how to bash Israel.
There are good signs: Obama had a Passover Seder for family and friends, the first ever in the White House, though that didn't prevent some wingnuts from insisting he is a Muslim. More important, the United States pulled out of the Durban II conference and stayed out, and the appointment of the "Israel lobby" crusader, Charles Freeman, himself president of an Arab lobby group, as the head of the National Intelligence Council, was blocked.
There are bad signs: The US government announced it will call for changes in the wording of Palestinian aid legislation
, so that it could give foreign aid to a Palestinian unity government that included an unrepentant Hamas
. The US is anxious to rebuild Gaza, at an price. The US also announced
that it is not in a hurry regarding talks with Iran. It seems to think that it has all the time in the world. There are also signs of naivete and what amounts to criminal negligence in foreign policy not directly related to Israel. Secretary of State Clinton tried to wish away the rising tide of violence in Iraq
"I think that these suicide bombings ... are unfortunately, in a tragic way, a signal that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction," Clinton told reporters traveling aboard her plane ahead of her unannounced visit to Baghdad.
That's one view. A more realistic view is that the US backed Maliki government may be about to be trounced by Iraqi insurgents, and the government that will replace it will make Saddam Hussein look like George Washington. It might not happen, but it is certainly foolish to ignore the possibility, and it is a much more likely outcome than the fairy tale spun by Mrs. Clinton.
Even worse, perhaps, is the fact that the administration seems to be so clueless that significant processes fall under the radar, as happened in the Bush administration. In Lebanon, there will soon be an election. There is every indication that this election will be a triumph for the Iranian supported Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Springtime for Nasrallah and Iran, winter for Lebanon and Israel. This is not the fault of the Obama administration. It happened in part because the Bush administration and the French government pulled the rug out from under their supporters in Lebanon. In part, it happened because of the consistent failure of the United States and other countries to understand that inclusion of the Hezbollah as a political party without disarming it was not a triumph for democracy, but the end of democracy. If one party has guns, there is no more democracy. "Vote for me or I'ill blow your brains out" is a very convincing campaign slogan. But the Obama administration doesn't even seem to be aware that there is about to be a disaster in Lebanon and has taken no real steps to avert it other than a meaningless statement of reassurance while the US was busy selling Lebanon down the river, and an even more pointless and unrealistic request for "fairness" in the Lebanese elections:
"The people of Lebanon must be able to choose their own representatives in open and fair elections - without the spectre of violence or intimidation and free of outside interference."
What sort of geopolitical genius thinks that sort of appeal would have any affect on Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Assad or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Disarming the Hezbollah in accordance with relevant UN resolutions would be more to the point.
Beyond these auguries, there is no real news yet, because the Obama administration has not yet gotten its act together. The campaign slogans about change didn't have much detailed thought behind them. If one says "Let's engage Iran," for example, one had better have a good idea of what to do when that doesn't work. When Obama insisted he would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, he should have had a Plan B, to be implemented in the event the insurgency surges. Evidently, he did not, and does not.
Many, many government positions are as yet unfilled, and many "policy statements" as yet are nothing more than empty slogans that may have to be abandoned on second thought. Barry Rubin is right to point out that Obama's Middle East policy has not been formulated yet. It might gel a bit more by June has he implies, but he seems to place too much faith in Hillary Clinton as a "realist." Her statement on Iraq was not the sign of a realist. Even as diplomatic euphemization, it didn't pass the grade as "credible fantasy."
To an extent, it is fair to say that foreign policy of any U.S. administration is never set in stone. It develops in reaction to events, and it is almost always the result of the interplay of different officials and bureaucratic empires. Those who are used to relatively orderly foreign policy establishments like that of Great Britain, France, the former USSR or Germany under Bismarck have a great deal of difficulty understanding that United States "policy" at any given moment in history may be nothing more than the sum total of statements and actions of several different officials. Each may take off in their own direction, heedless of executive policy and announced principles. The behavior of the United States toward Palestine partition and the bizarre performances of UN delegate Warren Austin in 1948 are a case in point, but not the only one. Under President Nixon, Secretary of State William Rogers and NSC Adviser Kissinger famously worked at cross purposes, each undermining initiatives of the other. Stability and uniformity however, are relative. The first months are often the time when it is most labile. Those who thought that the Obama administration was more prepared, or had a more informed or definite or uniform view than its predecessors, should be disabused of that idea by now.
The other half of the picture, of course, is the Netanyahu administration and the USA. Given that US policy is not yet formulated, and given the woeful inadequacy of US concepts of reality in the Middle East, what the Israeli government says and does in the next months is going to have a very significant influence in determining US policy.
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