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Sunday, June 07, 2009

More on Obama in Cairo

Middle East Strategy at Harvard has a number of academics' comments on President Obama's Cairo speech this past Thursday. I thought this one by Josef Joffe was quite good:
Therapists make no judgments on truth and falsehood; for them, the process is the purpose. But a process that does not correctly unearth the roots of conflict will invariably run afoul of the realities. Islamist terror will not go away because Obama softly, softly establishes a kind of moral equivalence between the Holocaust and what Palestinians call the Nakba, their loss and flight in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

Nor will the Arab world flock to America’s cause because of all the niceties Obama has bestowed on it. Let it be said, though, that the harsh rhetoric on Israel plus slaps like no-state-dinner for Mr. Netanyahu at the White House have been replaced by the balanced cadences of the Cairo speech: The Israelis have to do this, the Palestinians and Arabs have to do that.

But the chickens have already come home to roost. The hope, a perennial one, obviously is that the Arabs will be so overjoyed by the U.S. manhandling Israel that they will rally to Old Glory en masse, doing America’s bidding throughout the Greater Middle East. This is not how the Mideast works. To make the point, the spokesman of the Egyptian foreign ministry told the New York Times: “We will judge everything by the degree of Israeli commitments, and measures that are taken.”

In so many words: “Mr. President, now that you have pressured the Israelis, we want to see more of it. And more. And then, perhaps, we’ll do you a favor on other matters.” We are back at the oldest game of the Middle East. It is called “Let the U.S. Deliver Israel, Then We Might Start Acting in Our Own Interest.” Obviously, if it were in the Arab interest to push the Palestinians toward peace, and to engage in an alliance of containment and deterrence against Iran, they would have done so. But for lots of reasons, good and bad, the Arabs are not interested. And so the United States will keep weakening its only true ally in the Middle East without reaping any geopolitical fruit from its courtship of Araby.

Alas, a lot of damage will have been done before the United States learns that therapy is not grand strategy and changes course. But one bit of therapeutic advice remains apropos: Never treat your opponents and detractors better than your friends.
Joffe, the Marc and Anita Abramowitz Fellow in International Relations at the Hoover Institution, is publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit. For his full bio, go here.

Then there's this comment from Michael Rubin:
Obama is a gifted orator, one in a generation. By nature of Obama’s background—and the fact that he is not George W. Bush—he has a real chance to change the tone of discussion in the Middle East and among Islamic states. That said, rhetoric isn’t enough. Policy matters. Here, there is cause for concern. The Obama doctrine appears to rest on twin pillars: One is a decision to dispense with demands for accountability, and the second seems to be moral equivalency or cultural relativism.

Both Bush and Obama spoke of Palestine and their desire to see the creation of a state for Palestinian Arabs to live beside Israel. But Bush conditioned U.S. support for Palestine’s independence on a cessation of terrorism. Obama does not. And while he certainly condemned “violence” (perhaps terrorism is too loaded a term for Obama), he implied equivalence between this and the dislocation felt by some Palestinian Arabs.

Obama also cast aside demands for accountability when discussing elections, declaring “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.” This appears to be an allusion to the lack of U.S. support for the Hamas-led government in Gaza. The United States should be under no obligation, however, to befriend or assist governments which run counter to its interests. After all, U.S. foreign aid is not an entitlement. Hamas scrapped—and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt demands the scrapping of—agreements to which their entity and state have already obligated themselves. We should hold them accountable, not say we will embrace everyone.

As for cultural equivalency, I must object to his statement: “Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” Time and time again, however, it has been the superpower status of the United States which has prevented a far worse world order from taking root, be it in Europe, Asia, or even Latin America. The United States is not equal to Libya, nor should it ever be.
And this from Harvey Sicherman:
Obama’s “no sticks in sight” approach to Iran, including his apology on the Mossadegh affair (Madeleine Albright did this in 1998) was all open hand to which the Iranians thus far have responded with the middle finger. But the President’s framework ought to alarm the Israelis: will a U.S.-Iranian “dialogue” produce a demand that Israel yield its nuclear weapons in exchange for international guarantees that Iran, under international supervision, will not build one?

Obama, as he told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman before the speech, wanted to “speak directly” to the Arab street and persuade them of America’s “straightforward manner. Then at the margins, both they and their leadership are more inclined and able to work with us.” But this is more than a margin call. Obama has straightforwardly distanced himself from Israel, the better to cultivate the Arab coalition, whose leaders are his real target. Can they deliver the Palestinians to a compromise acceptable to Israel? Can they do much to alter the Iranian course? Or is the Arab coalition’s influence, like that of the Arab street, or the world of Islam, only a shadow of its reputation? A historian might say of the Cairo speech that it was a triumph—of hope over experience.
Read the whole thing (you won't like all the comments).


At 7:48 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

If Israel succumbs and goes back to what it disavowed and gives up on everything, one can be sure there will no peace. The Arabs will not make one with a weak Israel full of nice Jews ripe for the slaughter.

What else could go wrong indeed


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