Monday, December 8, 2008

Barack and a Hard Place


Steve Weissman has penned another winner for Truthout.org and this one is about the major foreign policy speech that the New York Times said Mr. Obama will deliver from an Islamic capital within the first 100 days of his administration.

Weissman makes an interesting and spot-on observation when he said of Obama's speech to AIPAC last summer:
In its wording and delivery, Obama's speech was absolutely brilliant. But, for any Israeli or Palestinian who truly wanted peace in the troubled land they share, or any American who wanted a hint of even-handed justice, the speech was a real letdown.

Talk about pandering, Obama told his pro-Israeli audience everything they wanted to hear - and then some. Giving a sweeping view of Iraq, Iran and the Holy Lands, he presented every problem from the point of view of Israel's security, to which he gave an ironclad guarantee. He barely mentioned the Palestinians at all, and when he did, it was only to lecture them on what they would have to do to achieve any hope of a two-state solution.

One could justifiably get the sense then, as now, that Obama told AIPAC everything they wanted to hear because he feared the powerful pro-Israel lobby, which consists of 7000 members, would've launched a huge smear campaign and would've gone for the obvious war hawk McCain even though they gladly would've handed the presidency over to a guy who still thinks that Iran is referred to as Persia and Germany Prussia.

And despite Lieberman speaking to AIPAC moments later to stab Obama in the back for not being hard enough on the Muslims, Obama nonetheless could've sounded like Bush (at least Bush, instead of chiding the Palestinians, merely treated them as if they didn't exist). So the latter-day Israelites got the sop they were looking for, making a pro-Israel platform the only other thing that united Obama, Hillary Clinton and McCain (the other being, of course, the evil scourge of gay marriage).

But what Weissman seems to forget is that there's no way Obama can make this foreign policy speech in his first 100 days without being accused #1 of back-pedaling by the Israelis who will quickly develop buyer's remorse or #2 of maintaining a top-heavy stance favoring Israel.

With the sage advice he's no doubt getting from Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski (and, I'm just as sure, from his foreign policy wonk of a vice president), Obama's tone will almost surely be a perfectly center-center position that will attempt conciliation with the Palestinians without alienating the Israelis.

Nentheless, despite the corner into which Obama had already painted himself last June, Weissman says,
I can quibble with the four points, as will Israelis and Palestinians. But what a wonderful step ahead it would be for the new president of the United States to put himself solidly behind a serious effort for peace.

The only way I can see that happening is if Obama makes a strong case for diplomacy, as Weissman seems to be saying. Specifically, rolling back the borders to 1967, "with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications" would be a good start.

But Obama needs to stress the diplomatic angle that's been sorely lacking between the United States and all too many nations, starting with the Palestinians and Iranians, to renew his campaign pledge to open up diplomatic channels with all parties, not just those who see things our unilateral way.

Even so, Obama's speech may be a tough sell since he's already come out swinging from the Israelis' corner. It'll be Obama's first serious test overseas, with much more at stake than when he gave his speech to enthusiastic Germans near the Brandenberg Gate. It may also be Obama's first pratfall, just as the Bay of Pigs and his first disastrous summit with Khrushchev were JFK's first pratfalls on the world stage.

The problem with making a pitch down the center of the alley is that one runs the risk of bowling a seven-ten split. And we all know what an adroit bowler Barack Obama is.

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