Where is Barack Obama? I know he’s in Hawaii soaking up those rays of glorious sunshine. But that’s not what I mean? Where IS he? Gaza is in flames. Bush is doing worse than nothing. He’s actually making the situation worse with his nonsense about calling Hamas thugs and claiming the Palestinian movement caused the Israeli violence and can end it.
Obama’s response is becoming less and less satisfactory as the killing mounts:
“The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, reiterating a phrase that has become a mantra of the transition. “And that president now is George Bush.”
Mr. Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, talked to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday. “But the Bush administration has to speak for America now,” Mr. Axelrod said. “And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.” As the fighting in Gaza shows, however, events in the world do not necessarily wait for Inauguration Day in the United States.
I’m finding lots of narischkeit to write about these days in covering this story. This is yet another example. I can understand that the Gaza massacre is not nearly as important to the American people as the Wall Street collapse. But when the economy imploded you didn’t hear Obama’s people deferring to Bush. He consulted with Bush. They worked out a common strategy. They each tried to look energetic, diligent and thoughtful.
What about now? If the Middle East explodes in flames will Axelrod be content to mouth yet more platitudes about only having one president at a time? Obama’s people aren’t stupid. They know that George Bush is doing absolutely nothing useful about virtually anything these days. They know there is a policy vacuum as far as Gaza is concerned. They’re just taking a wild gamble that Gaza won’t go up in flames before January 20th. That’s a gamble I wouldn’t lay odds on.
In today’s Times, its reporters summarize the conundrum facing Obama:
Mr. Obama might have little to gain from setting out an ambitious agenda for an issue as intractable as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the conflict in Gaza, like the building tensions between India and Pakistan, suggests that he may have no choice. “You can ignore it, you can put it on the back burner, but it will always come up to bite you,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator.
For Mr. Obama, the conundrum is particularly intense since he won election in part on promises of restoring America’s image around the world. He will assume office with high expectations, particularly among Muslims around the world, that he will make an effort at dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Daniel Levy makes a good case for action in his blog:
Arabs and Jews are killing each other – so what’s new? And why on earth would America want to be involved?
Here’s the bad news folks – America is involved, up to its eyeballs actually. Today, after Israeli air-strikes that killed over 200 Palestinians in Gaza, the Middle East is again seething with rage. Recruiters to the most radical of causes are again cashing in. If Osama Bin Laden is indeed a cave-dweller these days then U.S. intel should be listening out for a booming echo of laughter. Demonstrations across the Arab world and contributors to the ever-proliferating Arabic language news media and blogosphere hold the U.S., and not just Israel, responsible for what happened today (and that is a position taken, for good reasons, by sensible folk, not hard-liners). America’s allies in the region are again running for cover. America’s standing, its interests and security are all deeply affected.
…There is a bigger picture – and it is staring at the incoming Obama administration. Today’s events should be ‘exhibit A’ in why the next U.S. Government cannot leave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fester or try to ‘manage’ it – as long as it remains unresolved, it has a nasty habit of forcing itself onto the agenda. That can happen on terms dictated to the U.S. by the region (bad) or the U.S. can seek to set its own terms (far preferable). The new administration needs to embark upon a course of forceful regional diplomacy that breaks fundamentally from past efforts.
So far, the Obama response has been: “Don’t just do something, stand there.” This won’t do for much longer.