Where you stand on an issue
May 22, 2011 1 Comment
I’ve heard a lot of discussion about President Obama’s recent speeches regarding the middle east, and as far as I can tell, it is a rorschach blot of a speech (much as Senator Obama himself was during the 2008 campaign). That is, folks who were favorably disposed to him beforehand are reacting favorably, and folks who were unfavorably disposed to him are reacting unfavorably.
To my mind, this is an unsurprising sturm und drang – the actual policy difference between what he’s saying and what prior administrations are saying is small, and there aren’t a tremendous number of shocking statements in it. On the other hand, however, focusing on the Israel-Palestinian relationship now, in the midst of the “Arab Spring,” and after such a garbled and confused 6-months of US policy seems like it’s exactly the sort of cynical approach to politics that the Arab leaders had engaged in – that is, letting something of at best symbolic importance become the biggest issue serves as a distraction from the real and present issues facing the region. Practically: if Israel ceased to exist tomorrow – if every Jew moved to the Moon – would life in Tunisia or Libya get any better? Of course not – thus, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a distraction, and Obama’s speeches merely serve to show the lack of a coherent US policy.
For all of the faults commonly attributed to the Bush administration, there was no doubt where the US stood with regard to the middle east, and the governments therein – if there were a revolution in any particular country, you could reasonably predict on which side the US would come down – but now that is not possible. Why, for instance, would we come down harshly against the Egyptian government, first weakly and then moderately against the Libyan government, and not at all against the Syrian or Bahraini governments?
Obama’s behavior shows his lack of actual foreign-policy chops – he doesn’t seem to be able to articulate any sort of vision which animates his decision making, and for someone whose speechifying skills were so prized early on, this seems like less of a communication failure and more of an actual failure of imagination. In any case, I hope someone close to him reminds him that it’s better to tip the scales in favor of US allies when our allies get into conflicts – if we don’t, then our allies will wonder why they bother with that allegiance.