I’ve just been reading coverage and an excerpted video of Obama’s Indonesia speech (full text). I’m reminded of how brilliant he is as a strategist, theorist, and speechmaker (when before have you ever heard a U.S. president with the moxie to end a speech with the words “Asalaam Aleikum?”) and how woeful he is as a tactician. He knows where we need to go, he has a vision of what the future should look like in the Middle East, but he hasn’t a clue how to get there. And that will be the death of U.S. policy for the region.
Pres. Obama is actually delivering a speech to Indonesia’s Muslims in which he is attempting to sell them on the fact that he is confident that the U.S. can make headway and bring peace to the region. This flies in the face of Israel’s announcement that it will build 800 new housing units in East Jerusalem along with 200 more on the West Bank. Further, Bibi Netanyahu, speaking defiantly at the annual GA conference told off the Administration, saying Israel has never and would never agree to a settlement freeze in Jerusalem. In other words, he told Obama you can take your pretty words about our building efforts as “not being helpful” and shove it. That’s really what he said when you come right down to it.
So if you’re Barack Obama, what do you do? Do you keep making pretty speeches in Muslim capitals or do get down in the trenches and fight for what you believe in. Here’s what you shouldn’t say because it makes you look feeble:
“This kind of activity [settlement building] is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations, and I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough,” Mr. Obama said during a joint news conference here with the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He added, “Each of these incremental steps end up breaking trust.”
In the Middle East, we have faced false starts and setbacks, but we have been persistent in our pursuit of peace. Israelis and Palestinians restarted direct talks, but enormous obstacles remain. There should be no illusions that peace and security will come easy. But let there be no doubt: we will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just, and that is in the interest of all the parties involved: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
Note his language: he talks of “setbacks” and “obstacles” and “effort.” These are the polite words of diplomacy-speak. Not the hard-headed words of getting things done. Bibi, in contrast, knows how to fight in the trenches. Every Israeli prime minister does. That’s what Israel does best. It has no overarching vision of how to get from Point A to Point B. In fact, it doesn’t want to get to Point B. It wants to stay safe and warm (or so it thinks) at Point A. It only knows how to fight to maintain the status quo and it does this brilliantly (if that’s the appropriate word).
It will take someone with a lot more moxie than Barack Obama to get a peace agreement out of the Israelis. I recall with something less than fondness the bracing enthusiasm expressed by J Street’s founder, Daniel Levy, when he told a group of us that Obama had a brilliant strategy for getting to Point B using settlements as the lever to open the door. How naive all that looks now. Either that, or no one in the Administration listened to Levy.
And if anyone wants to see a further symptom of the cluelessness of the current U.S. policy, just read Bill Clinton’s time capsule tribute to Yitzhak Rabin in the NY Times. It’s so 1993. It reads like a love letter to an old girl friend felled by some terrible disease and you just can’t quite get her out of your mind. If only she’d lived, you think, imagine how perfect your life would be. Bill Clinton was, in his day a smart tactician regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, though not smart enough. But his day long passed. And this op-ed reads like a blast from the past. It’s not that what he says about Rabin is wrong. On the contrary, he captures the man and his many contradictions quite aptly. The problem is that the age of Rabin is long gone. We are in a different age. An even more deadly one than Rabin lived through.
There are no “hard-headed idealists” (as Clinton calls Rabin), only opportunists of the most shallow kind. They don’t want peace. They’re not willing to give up anything for peace. They couldn’t give a s(^t about any of that. As far as they’re concerned Obama is a wild-eyed Arab-lover and nuisance. They waited out and exhausted every previous American president and they figure they can do the same this time as well.
Here is the money quote which makes you realize Clinton is fluttering somewhere over the rainbow in terms of seeing what is really before him:
There is a real chance to finish the work he started. The parties are talking. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the necessary support from his people to reach an agreement. Many Israelis say they trust him to make a peace that will protect and enhance their security. Because of the terms accepted in late 2000 by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, supported in greater detail by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and approved by President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians, everyone knows what a final agreement would look like.
Clueless. Absolutely clueless. It makes you realize that this is the same playbook Hillary is using. It didn’t bring a peace deal in 2000 an it won’t bring a peace deal ten years later in 2010.