Much of Israel is abuzz after Obama’s speech in Cairo. I spent some of Shabbat reading the many analyses of the speech in the Jerusalem Post, and read through the transcript of the speech online this morning.
Some Israelis we know suspect him of being a closet Muslim. Some think he was elected by a populace enslaved by political-correctness and white guilt. Some observe that he ran a much better campaign than McCain, and that the campaign (rather than any sense of what he would do once in office) accounts for his election to the position of Leader of the Free World.
I’m not sure what to think of Obama. During the election, I argued that his race should not be a reason to elect him, nor should it be a reason not to elect him. Any confidence I may have had in John McCain as a candidate was shattered at his pick for vice president. I watched the proceedings with mild interest from afar, but did not vote in this election. (I have voted in every available election since 1992, but this time Massachusetts was Obamaland, and another vote in either direction would have made no difference.) I did not believe a vote for Obama was a vote for peace in the Middle East, or even a vote in favor of a strong American-Israeli relationship.
And indeed, it has not been. The only difference I see between Barack Obama and his predecessors, both Republican and Democrat, is that while his predecessors generally focused their attention on other things for the first three-quarters of their presidencies, and only at the end began to feel that irresistible lust for a Nobel Peace Prize to secure their legacy, Obama seems to have his eyes fixed on the Nobel at the beginning of his tenure in the Oval Office.
I don’t disagree with everything he said in Cairo. Eight years of antagonizing the Muslim world bore little fruit, especially since the goals were not always clearly stated or pursued methodically. I don’t believe there is any harm in reminding the Muslim world that in its heyday, it was dedicated to learning, science, modernization, and progress, in essence holding up a mirror to its present-day cultural backwardness and oppressive governments. Whether Obama’s audience in Cairo and the rest of the Arab world (except Iran, whose government jammed the signals so satellite owners couldn’t see it) can see themselves in what he said, I don’t know.
From the beginning, I’ve adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Obama. It’s possible that on the domestic front, he’ll be a breath of fresh (cleaner) air. It sounds as though he intends to increase fuel standards for automobiles, and to encourage (or force, if necessary) auto makers to develop cars that run on something other than petroleum. That, as I’ve said in the past, is a key to undermining terrorism in the world. My hope now is that I don’t have to wait 4 (or 8) years to see any (positive) results of what he does.
This speech revealed some of what I believe are his goals with regard to America’s relationship with the Muslim world and his own attitude toward trying to push forward the Middle East peace process. While it’s clear he is trying to depart from some of Bush’s cowboy diplomacy (i.e. ridin’ into town, whoopin’ and hollerin’ and shootin’ his gun in the air), I see in this speech that he plans to cling to many—if not most—of Bush’s unsuccessful policies. Talk of a two-state solution, of Arabs abandoning violence, of Israel freezing settlements, of Israel as built on the ashes of the Shoah, and of Israel’s responsibility to ensure that the Palestinians have a healthy economy is not going to bring about peace. The region is not yet ready for a two-state solution; Arabs must build an economy BEFORE they get a state, and must be willing to live in peace (and, ideally, cooperation with Israel), and Israel must have SOME hope that a Palestinian Arab state on its borders will not just be a rocket launching pad with a seat in the U.N. The Arabs show no inclination to abandon violence, and whatever Obama said about Islam being a religion of tolerance and peace, that’s not the interpretation of the Koran that terrorists are using. I’ve already written about how settlements aren’t the problem; I won’t get into that again here. To say that Israel exists as a direct result of the Shoah is to parrot the same platitudes the violent and resentful Muslim world has made since Israel’s founding. If Obama had really wanted to speak the truth, he would have pointed out the thousands of years of history Jews have in this land, that their nearly 2000 years of exile—compared to the measly 60 of the Arabs—was every bit as painful, and that their return was every bit as just as the bid for a Palestinian state, if not more so. And the claim that Israel is responsible for keeping food on Palestinian Arab tables, when the world has already shelled out billions of dollars to their corrupt governments to keep them in Mercedes Benzes, their private security posses armed with Kalashnikovs, and housed in secure bunkers to protect themselves from their political enemies (i.e. their own people) is absurd. If the Arabs can invent algebra, they can balance their checkbooks. If they can invade Israel multiple times, they can afford to lose, and lose land in the process—permanently. If they want a state, they can say “yes” when it’s offered to them. And if they want to end “the occupation,” they’d better stop whining and start acting like a people that’s ready for a state of their own, and all of the duties and responsibilities adhering thereto.
I really hoped that the much-touted meeting between Bibi Netanyahu and Obama on May 18 would signal a departure from the status quo and a willingness to rethink past failed strategies. I had hoped that these two guys, who seem bright enough, could re-examine the situation, identify the REAL steps necessary to preparing the region for a new order, and present that new thinking to the world. Instead, Obama seems to be just as wedded to the old failed methods as his predecessors. He seems likely to make the same mistakes as Bush and Clinton, trying to force a “peace” on a region and a “state” on a people that are not ready for it yet. When Ehud Barak offered Arafat and his cronies everything but Israel’s severed, dripping head on a platter and they refused, that should have signaled the end of the peace process as it had been pursued up until then. Making more plans like the Road Map and the Saudi-produced Arab Initiative that are almost identical to Oslo is going to lead to the same failures as the other plans. Obama shows every sign of repeating past mistakes yet again, clearly hoping he’ll be the guy for whom the mistakes result in success. Confucius defined that as insanity, and I’m inclined to agree. The job of peacemaker is no job for a madman.
Obama stated during the campaign that his favorite book is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals, about Lincoln and his brilliant, but sometimes contentious, cabinet. I read the book too, and loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Lincoln did some unprecedented things, and in most of his endeavors, was wildly successful. It’s from reading this book that Obama got the idea of nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton as his Secretary of State (as Lincoln did his party arch-rival, William Seward). And it’s from this book (which I hope Obama rereads) that I learned how Lincoln took great pains to prepare the country before proposing any major changes, as he did before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. If Obama were to adopt this wise practice of Lincoln’s, he would place a much higher premium on preparing the Middle East well for the hard road to a Palestinian state, taking care to put in place a viable economy for the Arabs, security safeguards for Israel, and most importantly, working to prepare the Arab populace for the changes to come. Without that skill, Obama will go down in history as just another hack who frittered away his presidency meddling in the Middle East, with no productive results. No Nobel, no legacy, no success.
What a sad beginning to a new administration that would be.