Mearsheimer: Obama Doomed to Disappoint with respect to Middle East

  • tokugawa

    Posts: 945

    May 23, 2011 4:14 PM GMT
    Obama: Doomed to disappoint

    In his speech on the Middle East, the US president failed to break the chains of the status quo and set a new path.

    John J Mearsheimer Last Modified: 21 May 2011 17:55

    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.

    Many Palestinians, on the other hand, did not like Obama's assertion that it made little sense for them to go to the UN General Assembly this September and win recognition for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Surely they also noticed that shortly after saying "every state has the right to self-defence, and Israel must be able to defend itself," the president said that the Palestinians would have to be content with "a sovereign non-militarised state," which means that they would not be able to defend themselves against Israel - or any other state for that matter. Hypocrisy appears to be wired into the DNA of US foreign policy makers.

    Obama's failure to impress and move US Middle East policy in new directions raises the intriguing question: Did he blow an opportunity to give a truly important speech at what appears to be a plastic moment in history? I think not. The sad fact is that Obama has remarkably little manoeuvre room on the foreign policy front. The most important item on his agenda is settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and there he knows what has to be done: Push both sides toward a two-state solution, which is the best outcome for all the parties, including the United States. Indeed, he has been trying to do just that since he took office in January 2009. But the remarkably powerful Israel lobby makes it virtually impossible for him to put meaningful pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is committed to creating a Greater Israel in which the Palestinians are restricted to a handful of disconnected and impoverished enclaves. And Obama is certainly not going to buck the lobby - with the 2012 presidential election looming larger every day.

    In addition to his problems with Israel and the lobby, Obama has little influence over events in the broader Middle East. The Arab Spring, which Obama fully embraced in his speech, happened in spite of US foreign policy, not because of it. After all, Washington has played a key role for decades in keeping friendly dictators such as Hosni Mubarak in power. And, not surprisingly, the Obama administration has remained quiet while Saudi and Bahrani security forces have been crushing the protestors in Bahrain. Why? Because the US Navy's 5th Fleet is stationed in Bahrain and we have excellent relations with its authoritarian leaders. On top of all this, the US military is pinned down in messy wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. Not surprisingly, Obama spends a great deal of time thinking about how to manage these conflicts, which leaves little time and room for bold new policy initiatives. Finally, the administration's hard-nosed policy for dealing with Iran's nuclear enrichment program is not working, but the president seems unwilling (or unable because of pressure from Israel and its lobbyists) to countenance a new approach for dealing with Tehran.

    The bottom line is that the US is in deep trouble in the Middle East and needs new policies for that region. But regrettably there is little prospect of that happening anytime soon. All of this is to say that there was no way that Obama could do anything but disappoint with Thursday's speech, because he is trapped in an iron cage.

    John J Mearsheimer is the R Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of The Israel Lobby And US Foreign Policy.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
    Source: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/05/2011521165854325150.html
  • tokugawa

    Posts: 945

    May 23, 2011 4:22 PM GMT
    Obama and the Israel Lobby
    By Glenn Greenwald
    AP Sunday, May 22, 2011 06:23 ET

    This week's hysterical, reality-deprived reaction to President Obama's pronouncements on the Israel/Palestine conflict genuinely provoked laughter on several occasions. That happened when I thought of the intense controversy triggered by publication of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby, which examined the "loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction," a coalition driven by "a core consisting of organizations whose declared purpose is to encourage the U.S. government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government's policies, as well as influential individuals for whom these goals are also a top priority." This week's events underscore how remarkable it is that that book's argument was demonized as some sort of radical, hateful conspiracy tract rather than treated as what it was: a statement of the bleeding obvious (albeit a brave one, given that discussions of that reality had previously been taboo).

    Obama's call for a peace deal ultimately "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps" is not even arguably a change from past American policy. Though he's the first President to publicly call for such an outcome, that's been the working premise of American policy for decades. It's controversial in one sense -- it unduly rewards Israel for its illegal seizures of land by suggesting they should be able to permanently keep West Bank settlements (the "land swap" aspect of the formula) -- but it does not remotely constitute a step in an anti-Israel direction. When even Israel-devoted stalwarts such as former IDF Corporal Jeffrey Goldberg and the ADL's Abe Foxman are dismissive of the condemnation of Obama's statements, it's crystal clear that they pose no challenge to the dominant pro-Israel orthodoxy that has shaped American policy (and political discourse) for decades.

    At most, Obama's public endorsement of this position was a symbolic gesture to chide Netanyahu for his overt indifference to U.S. interests (and, more so, belligerence toward Obama), and a small rhetorical fig leaf to the populist forces driving the Arab rebellion. Yet even the most microscopic deviation from the dictates of the Israel Government produce shrill and ludicrous backlash from The inside-the-U.S. Israel Lobby.

    The Right Wing Noise Machine all but accused Obama of trying to destroy Israel, with the GOP's leading presidential candidates condemning the President for the crime of "disrespecting" and "throwing Israel under the bus," Glenn Beck denouncing him for "betraying Israel," and Matt Drudge exploiting ignorance to screech in headlines that "Obama Sides With Palestinians." Meanwhile, a former AIPAC spokesman demanded that Obama take a renewed public pledge of devotion to Israel, and circulated to the media statements of condemnation from numerous "pro-Israel" Democrats in Congress. The neoconservative Israel-devotees at The Washington Post editorialized against Obama and predictably blamed him for the resulting tension with Netanyahu, siding (as usual) with this foreign government over their own. And a Reuters article this morning claims that "some prominent Jewish Americans are rethinking their support for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election bid" due to that speech:

    The backlash after Obama's keynote speech on the Middle East has Democratic Party operatives scrambling to mollify the Jewish community as the president prepares to seek a second term in the White House. . . .

    "I have spoken to a lot of people in the last couple of days -- former supporters -- who are very upset and feel alienated," billionaire real estate developer and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman said.

    "He'll get less political support, fewer activists for his campaign, and I am sure that will extend to financial support as well."



    But remember: it's so very heinous and hateful to suggest -- as Walt and Mearsheimer shamefully did -- that some Americans are driven by devotion to Israel as their primary political preoccupation and that, banded together, they exert substantial influence. Perish the thought.

    Full article: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/22/israel/index.html