David Bromwich, one of PULSE’s top 10 intellectuals for 2010, is a highly astute political analyst, with an extraordinary capacity for parsing the nuances of language and character. He has must-read essay in the New York Review of Books on the gap between Obama’s Middle East rhetoric and reality.
President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, May 20, 2011.
Being president of the world has sometimes seemed a job more agreeable to Barack Obama than being president of the United States. The Cairo speech of June 2009 was his first performance in that role, and he said many things surprising to hear from an American leader—among them, the statement that “it is time for [Israeli] settlements to stop.” But as is now widely understood, the aftermath of Cairo was not properly planned for. Though Obama had called on Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the expansion of settlements, he never backed his demand with a specific sanction or the threat of a loss of favor. His contact with peaceful dissidents in the Arab world remained invisible and was clearly not a major concern of his foreign policy. Soon after the Cairo speech, the Afghan war and drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal regions took center stage.
Yet Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy—a policy fought for in particulars, carefully sustained, and traceable to his own intentions. The command to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and the attempt to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike, which closely followed the bin Laden success, are the exceptions that prove the rule: actions of a moment, decided and triggered by the president alone. His new Middle East speech, at the State Department on May 19, was in this sense a return to a favorite genre.
Barack Obama gave a major speech on the Middle East on Thursday, May 19, and it is clear from the subsequent commentary that he impressed few people. The main reason for this is that he did not say much new or indicate that there would be any serious changes in US policy in the region. It was essentially more of the same with some tweaking here and there. Nevertheless, he did manage to anger some people. For example, Israel’s hard-line supporters were outraged that he said: “Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” For them, the 1967 borders are “Auschwitz borders” and thus can never serve as a basis for negotiations.
In the last week, press reports have suggested that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to give a key speech on the peace process in the next few months, with many flagging up his planned visit to the US in May. Claims of an imminent bold proposal have been met with a good deal of scepticism, from both Palestinians and Netanyahu’s domestic political opponents. Analysts have described the talk of a new plan as a “trial balloon” and a “public relations exercise aimed first and foremost at Washington”.
Netanyahu’s new plan, should it materialise, is rumoured to be based on the “the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders” as part of an “interim peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority”. Other reports have been even vaguer, claiming that Netanyahu is proposing “a phased approach to peacemaking”, but leaving it open if this includes temporary borders.
Jennifer Loewenstein writes that policy continuity from the previous administration in fact persists in Obama’s proclamations: “Barack Obama has sent Benjamin Netanyahu the message he most seeks, whether Netanyahu recognizes it or not: continue your colonial-settler project as you have been doing; just change the vocabulary you use to describe it.”
Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama have one thing very much in common: both of them have nearly the same vision for the future of “Palestine”. They may not recognize it yet, but sooner or later, whether Netanyahu remains in power or is replaced by someone who speaks Dove-Liberalese better, they will shake hands and agree that the only thing that really separated them in the early months of President Obama’s administration was semantics: the language each man used to describe what he saw for the future of Palestine, or “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – a phrase that suggests there are two sides each with a grievance that equals or cancels out the other’s and that makes a just resolution so difficult to formulate.
Robert Dreyfuss is one of the best analysts of the forces shaping US foreign policy. Had more people been reading him in the lead up to the Iraq war, it is likely that they could have acted more effectively to prevent the war. While some like Noam Chomsky would have you believe that there is a unified ‘elite’ which makes unanimous decisions, the reality is far more complicated and far less hopeless. There are forces within the establishment who are deeply wary of the neoconservative worldview, and while 9/11 had put them in a disadvantaged position, now they are silent no more. Here Dreyfuss reports on the stern advice Obama received from one of the leading lights of the Realist camp.
President Obama got some strongly worded advice yesterday on how to deal with Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who’ll be making his first visit to the United States as Israel’s new leader in mid-May. The Obama-Netanyahu meeting promises to be a showdown.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the veteran strategist and hardliner — who was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser — told a conference yesterday that in the history of US peacemaking in the Middle East, the United States has never once spelled out its own vision for what a two-state solution would look like. That, said Brzezinski, is exactly what President Obama needs to do. And fast.
Brzezinski was speaking at a conference on US-Saudi relations sponsored by the New America Foundation and Saudi Arabia’s Committee on International Trade. Brzezinski, who advised Obama early in the presidential campaign, was exiled from Obamaland after his less-than-devout support for Israel made him a liability.