Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Mash Note To Taylor Marsh, Israeli Edition

"Abbas blaming Obama is just priceless. What rubbish. No American president, least of all Obama, no matter how disappointing the lack of progress is, can make the Palestinians and the Israelis make a deal." T.M.

In the immortal words of Monty Python's Black Night "Have at you!" 

Other than W I cannot remember a U.S. president more feckless in his approach to the Middle East. In many ways Obama is worse than W. At least the Shrub had the "excuse" of being both intellectually lazy and wedded to a Christian millennialist, CUFI approved mindset. Obama was supposed to be the smart one on Mid East policy, especially when you consider the opposition.

So what did Mr. Word Fog, hope, change and unicorns do right out of the box? He did exactly what they tell you not to do in salesmanship 101: overpromise and under-deliver. Obama went to Cairo and delivered a masterful speech that raised expectations sky high. After raising the roof, Barack then let the political process at home spiral down into mediocrity. He delivered a policy prescription that the conventional wisdom loved but had the slight disadvantage of being tried before, and failed miserably. Abbas is right to point out that Obama failed on the most basic metric; he did not even try.

Trying means freezing the settlements, or at least putting down a marker that indicate that you're serious about a settlement freeze. "Natural Growth" is no such marker; it is no such indicator of seriousness. It is not even a modest speed bump for the hundreds and possibly thousands of moving vans bringing in more Israeli settlers into the occupied territories. It is a reward for bad behavior. 

Taylor, try to look at this from the prospective of even the most "moderate" of Palestinians. They are supposed to come to the table and try to negotiate a land for peace deal whilst Israel keeps nibbling away at the amount of land up for negotiation? It is as if you tried to figure out the fair division of a cooked chicken with your husband while he was stuffing bits of the chicken into his mouth. "Natural Growth" in this scenario would be your husband's ever expanding waist-line as more and more of that chicken gets digested.

If the actual policy of the U.S.A. is to broker a land-for-peace deal, it has to at the very least stabilize the amount of land under discussion. That means a bare-knuckle approach to the Israeli government. It means freezing our economic aid to the Israelis until they freeze the settlements. It means going toe-to-toe with the Israeli government, and the U.S. interest groups that enable them.

Taylor, we both know the chances of that happening, especially with the man occupying the Oval Office at this time. The compromiser in chief is not up to the task. Obama's instinct is for conciliation not for confrontation, this makes him innately unable to perform the task. It is not in the man's personality, it is not in his makeup, it is a task that requires focus; that requires philosophical grounding; that requires core moral and political values. It is a task that requires everything that Obama lacks.

I hate to bring up the type of man who is required for this task; that man is the reason you voted for Regan back in the day. But it does take a man with the type of moral certitude that Jimmy Carter displayed. You may have major problems with Carter's proposals but at least the man has some guiding principles. Oh, and he is also the last President that actually achieved anything of substance in the Middle East. Carter, and to a lesser degree Clinton, is proof of what an engaged U.S. President can do. Only the U.S. President, playing the role of honest broker, has the tools at his or her disposal that could resolve the Middle East conundrum. Obama does not act as if he understands what the job entails. The job requires a willingness to push back on the bad behavior of both parties. Instead of reversing the United State's slow drift to being a partisan for Israel, he has allowed the usual suspects to continue that drift. He has allowed rigid partisans to set the policy of the United States.

Abbas is more correct than you allow. Without the U.S. being a true honest broker there is no path to peace in the Holy Land. Obama has to step up and lead, he has to attempt to lay down the law. He has to at least get out of his comfort zone. This is not some intellectual exercise run in the ivy-covered halls of academia; this is real life. In the real world when you fail to find a solution real people suffer. In the real world, there is no resetting the problem and re-running the scenario until you find a better solution. In the real world when you fail there is no retaking the course; you get one shot. In the real world, as president, if you do not lead you will absolutely fail. Granted Carter found out that even if you do lead, you can still fail, but those are the breaks of leadership. Without strong leadership from the President of the United States there is no peace process; there is only the Middle East freight train picking up more speed and heading for the inevitable smash-up.

Obama does have a choice in this scenario, he can grab whatever controls he has within his reach and attempt to gain control of the train, or he can shuffle around the engine compartment polishing the brass. Right now Bibi and friends have him polishing the brass.