One Israel, twenty-some Muslim nations, all still hostile. An attempt to preserve a people by moving them from where they are despised to where they are actively, passionately hated. What is pitched as one of Machiavelli’s “footholds”, but has chronically failed to result in the expansion of democracy or Western interests. A conflict that has defeated basically everyone’s efforts to end it.
Walter, I hope your course on Grand Strategy over at Bard has the sense to be teaching its takers how to *avoid getting into messes like this in the first place*.
The idea that God has a special place in his heart for Americans is a primitive and barbarous notion.
Myself, I think it is better to reflect that God must also have a special place in his heart for all.
I think you overstate the importance of this incident. If Bibi wants the White House to leave him alone and stop pushing his government to negotiate with the Palestinians, then he “won”… by which I mean he preserved an increasingly perilous status quo in which all demgraphic indicia point towards an emerging Palestinian majority in what will now almost certainly be a single state. If he was hoping to secure America’s aid in taking military action against Iran, however, then the effect of this speech was negligible. If he was hoping to ensure Obama’s downfall in the 2016 election by trying to make it a referendum on the candidates’ “support for Israel” (by which he, the Republicans, and apparently you mean support for Likud), then his effort was probably counterproductive, since the GOP is filled with figures like Palin who will rise to the bait, notwithstanding that the average American swing voter could care less about any of this.
Everett Dirksen once said that the first task of every politician was to get right with Lincoln.
For the reasons you’ve eloquently outlined, I would add that today, at least regarding foreign policy, the first job of American politicians is to get right with Israel.
It must be added that “getting right” doesn’t mean being uncritical. Quite the contrary. With the exception (perhaps) of Netanyahu, most of the AIPAC speakers probably have more in common with Ha’aretz’s editorial page than that of the Jerusalem Post.
But I do believe that “getting right” means trying to understand exactly what the deeper U.S.-Israel connection is all about.
That Obama doesn’t get it has been clear for a long time. (Re-read his Cairo speech where he asserted that Israel’s basis was the Holocaust.)
“Then Bibi drops the C-Bomb. . .” What is the C-Bomb?
Mead: “President Obama’s new Middle East policy, intended to liquidate the wreckage resulting from his old policy and get the President somehow onto firmer ground, lies in ruins even before it could be launched. He had dropped the George Mitchell approach, refused to lay out his own set of parameters for settling the conflict, and accepted some important Israeli red lines — but for some reason he chose not to follow through with the logic of these decisions and offer Netanyahu a reset button.”
Do you seriously think there is anything Obama could have done or said to get the “peace process” back on track? Anything new, I mean, which had not already been tried before. If so I would certainly like to hear what it is.
And if not why don’t you consider the possibility that there is one big missing ingredient, namely, a European moral and financial committment on a scale comensurate with the size of the problem, which is the size of the Palestinian refugee population.
Europe is rich. The responsibility is theirs.
Obama always seems to find the “sour spot” because throughout his life he’s gotten a pass on his lack of rigorous thinking. Thus, the intellectual maturity gained by trial and error; running businesses, working around corporations and bureaucracies, testing scientific theories, is alien to our president. That in itself is not a tragedy: what is a tragedy is that enough Americans share his cognitive dissonance to have voted for him, placing the nation in dangerous hands.
As far as peace processes generally being useful; not in this case. There is no political solution to the middle east question.
Obama is trapped by his leftist idée fixe that says ‘Israel is the colonialist oppressor, therefore Israel is by definition the problem.’
This is the ideology that powers Obama’s palpable animus against Israel. This is the ideology that leads Obama to forget the risks Israel has already taken for peace, and what came of them; even worse, to forget the US promises that Israel counted on when taking those risks. This is the ideology that prevents Obama from putting even the smallest amount of pressure on the side that is refusing to sit down at the table: the Palestinians. Instead, he pretends that Israeli, not Palestinian, intransigence is preventing negotiations and demands that Israel give up all its bargaining chips as a precondition to talks. For icing on the cake, Obama urges this at the very moment when Israel’s 30 year old peace treaty with Egypt, for which it gave up the whole Sinai, is being torn up, bit by bit.
Obama is a prisoner of his neo-Marxist “Orientalist” ideology. Like others of his ilk, what he really wants is for the Palestinians to be made happy or for Israel to be destroyed, which ever comes first (you get only one guess), but he can’t say that out loud, so he is forced to dissemble.
It’s always prodding him, this ideology; it keeps driving him to pick fights he can’t win. I don’t even think he intended to pick a fight with Netanyahu in last Thursday’s speech! He just can’t help himself, apparently.
“Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t ‘get’ Israel also don’t ‘get’ America and don’t ‘get’ God.”
Exactly right, Mr. Mead. Exactly right. In a nutshell you have described the alienation of Obama and the current leaders of the Democratic Party from the majority of Americans.
Who should we believe?
WRM last week: “Most of the people who object to any talk of the 1967 borders are closer to Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity than to Rahm Emanuel, Barbra Streisand, Hendrick Herzberg and George Soros. ”
WRM this week: “Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. ”
At any rate, I will take Barack Obama, with his failure on the peace process, any time over George W. Bush, who dismantled the peace process and started a useless war on false premises.
At this point, Netanyahu has exposed himself. He has no interest in peace. He’ll never agree to it, on any terms, and he’ll always invoke the ‘security to Israel’ excuse. He revealed himself to be in the same class with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.
Netanyahu does not know three things:
1. Obama does not need Netanyahu.
2. But Netanyahu needs Obama.
3. And Obama is the 1st US president in a long time to act from a position of principle in the problem of Palestine. I would not underestimate Obama on this.
The simple reality is that Palestinians will try all things until they find the chink in Israel’s armor. And at one point, they will discover Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Gandhi’s non-violent philosophy. They’ll throw away their guns and rockets, and will switch to peaceful, mass demonstrations inside and outside the checkpoints, a la Tahrir Square.
There will be provocations, and there will be people not renouncing violence. It wasn’t easy for Gandhi either. But it is possible, and smart Palestinians know that it is the only strategy that will work.
I am a fairly hawkish pro-Israeli conservative (I have a number of relatives who live there) however, I thought Obama’s speech was pretty good and an indication that reality had finally dawned on him. My initial reaction to the Republican’s criticism of that speech was that their criticisms were just run of the mill over the top partisanship. I never expected them to get the traction they did. This followed by Netanyahu’s triumph makes me think that maybe something else is going on. My speculation is that there is a lot of anger with Islam in America right now. I think the fact that Bin Laden was hiding in the West Point of Pakistan for years and that too many Muslims thought it was a shame he was killed has angered a lot of Americans. I wonder if being noisily pro-Israel is a fairly PC way of showing that anger.
To be pro-Israel is, indeed, to be pro-American. But equally significant, it is to be pro-Western. Israel is the lone outpost of the West in the Middle East. It is the canary in the mine. Israel’s fall will herald the final closing of the West under the ancient assault of Islam. If Israel can stand, it will remain a symbol of Western resolve. Sadly, that resolve has grown thin.
I believe that ‘the ones’ policy failures stem from his lack of his own beliefs. He has no sense of right and wrong. He reads well and has a good voice but, what does he believe? He listened to his racist pastor for 20 years. Do you think he absorbed nothing? Perhaps. He may have only been there to cement his relations with the black community. Why all the ‘czars’? Because he cannot decide?
Anyone who’s read C.V. Wedgewood’s The King’s Peace can not be struck but by the players and currents that seem to have just changed costumes and the themes of subplots. Who is to play his Strafford?
We don’t know what Obama thinks. Of course, the hacks in the mainstream press could tell us. The LA Times is STILL sitting on a tape of Obama saying something at an Arab event. That might enlighten us.
But they won’t release it.
The Times and others are still in the Obama p.r. business.
#7 Luke Lea calls for “European moral and financial committment on a scale comensurate with the size of the problem, which is the size of the Palestinian refugee population.”
On a per capita basis the Palestinians have already received about FOUR TIMES what was spent in the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War 2. A lot of this money has gone to the corrupt leadership and to pay terrorists to kill Jews. The “moderate” palestinian authority is paying salaries to murderers in jail and stipends to families of suicide terrorists.
When you reward corruption and terror with money you get more of it. It’s time to cut them off entirely.
@Luke Lea – “The responsibility is theirs.”
Consider the Tragedy of the Commons.
Assigning moral responsibility to others is the most feckless attribute of the Democratic party, right up there with “You should eat your spinach – it’s good for you.”
The notion that peace between Israel and Palestine is the responsibility of Europe is so wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. Nor is it Obama’s. And I do not see where Dr. Mead’s essay states or implies that it is.
If anything, I think that Obama’s recent ill-informed activities illustrate the immortal verity of the saw “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Do you suppose he is still trying to earn that Nobel he was given?
I am sorry, but the idea that Obama’s “descriptions of the situation are comprehensive and urbane”. merely means that he can read what others have written for him. After that I don’t see anything that he does or says that indicates that he understands what these words mean. The only exception may be when he praises himself. He sure knows that.
While the last 75% of Andrei’s 2:28am comment are…fanciful at best, the first 25% makes a good point. How to explain the almost complete 180 between Monday’s article “Obama Throws Palestine Under The Bus As World Hails His Courage” and Thursday’s “The Dreamer Goes Down For The Count”.
Sure, Bibi’s speech happened in between — but Monday’s article said picking a fight with Netanyahu would be a good thing. So unless WRM means “picking a fight is good, but losing in a TKO in the first round is embarassing”, I’m not sure what else explains WRM’s complete turnaround.
“[G]oing up against” one of your few true allies in a region chocked full of enemies should hardly be described as an ‘interesting approach’ to a ‘complex problem we face.’
You say: “The GOP, in trouble recently as voters recoil from what many see as Republican extremism on issues like Medicare and public unions, will be able to use the national security card in new and potent ways.:
I say: “What nonsense! The Democrats and their extensive media allies demagogue (i.e., lie) about the Ryan plan for saving Medicare when the dirty little secret is that Obamacare would cut $500 million from Medicare to fund O-Care. Further, absolutely no seniors currently receiving Medicare would be affected by the Ryan plan. Thus, your definition of “extremism” is actually a virtue. Regarding public unions, it is decidedly mainstream for Republicans to argue that public unions need to be scaled back. And despite Democrat demogogery (lying) in the Wisconsin judicial race, their shill got clocked. The public is cooling on Republican/Tea Party public policy? That’s Democrat wishful thinking.”
The polling trends suggest otherwise.
#13 gets it. Israel is our modern Sparta. If it stands, so does Western Civilization. Our common enemies know this too. Why not our elites?
“The idea that God has a special place in his heart for Americans is a primitive and barbarous notion.”
I’m sure it is…on your home planet of Zircon 3.
Obama excels at finding the ‘sour spot’ because he habitually reverts to the Alinskyite/community organizer’s tactic of seeking to box an opponent into a strict yes or no answer. A yes being a concession to what is desired, and a no serving to infuriate, and therefore motivate, your own political base.
This tactic does not work against an international opponent.
“President Obama probably understands this intellectually; he understands many things intellectually.”
Perhaps this is true. Perhaps Obama also rejects it philosophically. Either way you really need to start providing some direct evidence for these blanket assertions.
I was going to leave some comment, but your piece is comprehensive and right on the money. Netanyahu’s speech to congress was unique. You may have overstated Netanyahu’s victory, but not by much. Anyway, excellent piece.
I actually think Obama’s narcissism combined with his reluctance to take the lead on any controversial issue without having someone covering for him leads him to be both intellectually detached on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and at the same time willing to let his most trusted Middle East foreign policy advisers chart the strategy on the area. That gets him in trouble, because as seen before the 2008 election, Obama’s advisers are solidly in the pro-Palestinian camp — they know that they can’t come out and let their full flag fly in the president’s speeches, but they try to sneak references in under the radar that still are discovered, because people don’t trust this White House on the Middle East to begin with.
It’s like the situation with ObamaCare — the president basically subcontracted all the grunt work out to Reid and Pelosi and just went along with whatever they did, thinking they knew what they were doing and he would reap all the huzzahs once it was passed. Obama allowed his foreign policy team to craft his Israeli-Palestinian strategy because he’s too detached to care and figured they knew what they were doing and he would then reap all the rewards when the plan succeeded. The difference is at least on ObamaCare the president could count on almost all of the Democratic Party having his back; the reaction to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress showed Obama’s only got the truly committed left on his side in this kerfuffle.
Mogdon said: “The idea that God has a special place in his heart for Americans is a primitive and barbarous notion.”
Shall I quote you a line from a primitive and barbarous song? “America, America, God shed His grace on thee …”
When Mead discusses Pakistan or the Middle East it is more important to note what he leaves out than what he leaves in.
This 1300 word essay on Obama and peace in Middle East mentions Islam exactly ZERO times.
Which brings me to Mead’s point about American support of Israel being rooted in a belief in American Exceptionalism and faith in God. “Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith.”And,”The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism.” Mead mentions “God” three times and the bible once, all presumably within a Christian or Jewish context, to explain US support for Israel. Maybe he’s right.
Yet maybe, the reasons for that support are due to more mundane, observations.
Maybe Americans know that when Israel left Lebanon and Gaza they received rockets as a result.
Maybe Americans are aware of how brutally repressive Islam is as a political force.
Maybe Americans are aware that theocracies of any stripe make bad places to live, are economic basket cases and are nasty neighbors.
Maybe Americans are aware of ongoing Islamic violence in any country that either borders an Islamic country or has a significant percentage of Muslims living there.
Maybe Americans are aware of the lack of religious freedom, lack of equal rights, etc., that exist in all of the members of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries), the largest voting block in the United Nations.
Maybe Americans are tired of, and losing patience with, charges of Islamophobia, racism and bigotry, and Muslim fears of backlash for the most recent bombing.
Or, like Mead says, it could all be faith based on our part.
The question I tried to address is why Americans care so passionately about Israel one way or the other. There are plenty of places where Americans sympathize with one side but don’t feel moved to do much: Tibet, Myanmar, South Sudan, Iranian and Syrian Kurdistan and a number of others. They both sympathize with Israel and are prepared to act to defend it if need be. That is true of only a handful of countries in the world. While there are many factors in American support of Israel, it is impossible to make sense of the relationship without understanding the cultural and religious dimension.
@andrei rădulescu-banu: “The simple reality is that Palestinians will try all things until they find the chink in Israel’s armor. And at one point, they will discover Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Gandhi’s non-violent philosophy. They’ll throw away their guns and rockets, and will switch to peaceful, mass demonstrations inside and outside the checkpoints, a la Tahrir Square.”
I’m surprised they haven’t discovered the efficacy of non-violent protest already. Perhaps it is alien to their culture? But then it was alien to all cultures until they last century, unless you count Lysistrata. 🙂
I’m not sure about any “chinks” in Israel’s armor, but a shift to non-violent protest would almost certainly shift the focus of the conflict from force to reason, which can only work to the good. Plus, of course, it would play well in the West.
Now if the Israelis and Palestinians would only come together to point the accusing finger at Europe. I don’t expect that to happen though, at least not in public.
Better for Germany to take the lead in any European accession to moral responibility for this conflict. I say this because, among the nations of Europe, Germany alone has taken moral responsibility for its anti-Semitic past. I would imagine they are getting a little tired of being made the scapegoat for all Europe’s sins by now. I know I would be if I were in their shoes.
I see the “peace process” as little more than spinning wheels in the mud to ones self feel like they’re doing something.
The problems are:
1) The Palestinians insist on the destruction of Israel.
2) The Israeli’s refuse to die.
Until one of the parties changes their fundamental position on this, there will be no peace.
Denain is ignorant of facts and a liberal [unsmart person].
Jack- the people know these things in spite of the main stream media trying to hide the truth and out and out lying about many of the facts.
Where do moderate muslims think Laden and the 911 bombers are? Paradise or hell. That answer will tell you a lot about moderate Islam.
@Jay: “On a per capita basis the Palestinians have already received about FOUR TIMES what was spent in the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War 2. A lot of this money has gone to the corrupt leadership and to pay terrorists to kill Jews. The “moderate” palestinian authority is paying salaries to murderers in jail and stipends to families of suicide terrorists.
When you reward corruption and terror with money you get more of it. It’s time to cut them off entirely.”
I couldn’t agree with you more about who the money should go to: ordinary Palestinians, not their corrupt leaders. As for the size of package, it would need to be large enough to establish a standard of living in any future Palestinian state on a par with Israel’s and would have to be used for that purpose. There are roughly a hundred Europeans for every Palestinian so on the roughest calculation it should not require more than one percent of European GDP annually over a period of time, around a trillion dollars by my back-of-the-envelope calculations.
Comparisons with the Marshall Plan are correct in principle, though the problems are vastly different: even in the ruins of WWII Europeans had enormous stocks of human and social capital, accumulated over generation, to draw upon. Paletinians lack these resources by and large which is one reason why the process of construction — not reconstruction — will take generations.
To say nothing of the moral reasoning involved. The Marshall Plan was an act of generosity, not obligation, on America’s part, though also motivated by calculations of enlightened self-interest.
Europe’s role would not be motivated by generosity; indeed the word generosity has no place in this disucssion, which is why Natanyahu’s promise to be generous with the Palestinians must have been galling in Palestinian ears. For them it is an issue of having been wronged and the natural sense of grievance and humiliation that flows from that fact. That wrong has to be acknowledged and addressed, not by Israeli Jews, of course, but by European gentiles. It is a corporate moral responsibility which will not, has not, cannot die with the passing generations. (The northern Ireland dispute has continued for 400 years afte all.)
Nations are like babies in certainly respects. They are morally immature, hate to admit when they are wrong. It is one of the realities of group psychology. But, like babies, nations and even collections of nations can learn to grow up. Especially when it is in their own interests to do so.
#’s 13 and 23 have it right. Isreal is Western. To support Israel is to support traditional Western liberalism (not progressive politics called “liberal”) against post-modern barbarism. Islam is only one component of the threat. When intellectuals like Thomas Friedman celebrate the authoritarian regime in China we see the other face of the threat. Our elites are decadent and have no confidence in traditional liberalism; they support the anti-western, anti-liberal, anti-Christian, anti-democratic “victims” of the third world instead.
This is such a stupid reading of Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, that once again, one sees how badly served we are by our public intellectuals. (And sadly Mead is even a Minister’s son, making such fundamental errors about his religion.) To be as brief as possible, one of the most important tenets of Christianity is that God does not treat any one people or any one land or place as more holy than any other. There are tons of verses in the NT about this issue. Just one here, the most famous one from Galatians 3:28: “There is no Jew or Greek, servant or free, male or female: all are equal before Christ.”
Now it is true that some Protestants, considering stories of the Old Testament, seem to find in some of those stories a notion that those stories are more important than the more philosophical, universalist, Greek notions of the NT. Moreover, that those stories are not located in a theological-historical past, but have a kind of present-day application. But any cursory understanding of Christianity, which is after all about Christ, would have to understand this understanding of OT stories as an error. For 1000 of years, the OT was simply used to confirm that Jesus was who he said he was– there was no other real investment in the OT, except as important stories proving God’s uniqueness and his power– the ten commandments, the creation story etc. The OT and the NT together were seen as a theological history of the relationship between God and man, in which man has a better and better understanding of hte nature of God as history unfolds.
For myself, I wonder why the televangelists and “public intellectuals” who purvey this misunderstanding of Christianity are so popular– given that their readings of scripture are so patently literal and ignorant. Is it a sign of how stupid and ignorant Americans are and how bad American religious education is, or are these the kinds of ministers the networks are willing to put on TV?
The US Congress spurned moderate and peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians, and egged on the fanatics on both sides. As the author admits, this ONE exception is not about individual people and their right to live in their own country as equal citizens. This is about religious dogma and Jewish lobby power!
It is a tragedy for the USA’s moral authority and security, and Obama is helpless to do anything about. We can thank the Israel lobby for all those own goals in the West’s fight against fundamentalism. It’s about times countries other than the US get tough and impose a peace plan accompanied by harsh sanctions on those who refuse it.
I should point out that the post states rather specifically that I think this is less about Jewish power than about general American ideas.
Obama is an empty suit with no interest in the Jewish community with the exception of votes it may garner. You should have heard Congressman Rothman defending Obama’s speech (at his Fort Lee non-listening session) just an hour after it was given, but before Bibi mopped the floor with Obama.
Israel has more strength than any other country on the planet and as a Christian American I certainly understand their role in the mideast as an equalizer. Those who choose to discard or discount Israel are not critical thinkers, rather they are talking heads who simply drink the talk of enlightenment for Palestine and Hamas. This politically correct “speak” has got to go and fast. We must realize the threat to all Jews and Christians. Separately, I find it amazing that no one reports of the brutal treatment of Christians in Muslim countries….they who speak so fast and continually of being treated with respect have none for others. Time to wake up and smell the coffee!
This whole situation is frustrating and highlights the ever present give and take in republican governance. Are politicians elected to lead on hard issues or are they elected to speak for their constituents? Both, of course, but what should one do when the hard decisions may be at odds with their constituent’s wishes?
President Obama is not in the wrong here. Watching the GOP team up with a foreign head of state to deal a political blow to a sitting President while he is out of the country is unbelievable. As is too often the case in electoral politics, demagoguery wins. Lest they be out-hawked and out-righteoused, the Democrats smile and go along. A product of their inability or unwillingness since Vietnam to establish a credible counter narrative on foreign policy. “Something is going on outside our borders? Let us not discuss this. Let’s talk about healthcare instead.”
I’ve said many times before that I empathize with Israel – I really do – but if your closest friend isn’t allowed to stand up and say anything about the de facto annexation of Judea and Samaria without equal political representation, then you are dooming yourself to long term political fallout.
Before anyone mistakes me as a lefty shill, I feel the exact same way about Democrats burying their heads in the sand on fiscal matters. The way they use fear tactics on the Ryan budget plan is incredibly short sighted. Speaking of which, if we don’t get something worked out on those fiscal matters, America could take a serious power blow. What kind of Israeli political shield will we be then?
“Peace processes are generally good things even if they seldom bring peace.”
Can you defend that proposition?
As Winston Churchill put it, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” A frozen conflict is better than a burning one — not least for the civilians caught up in the cross-fire.
“…it is impossible to make sense of the relationship without understanding the cultural and religious dimension.”
Which is a capsule summary of [your] main point …
…and is the very essence of Obama’s myriad and recurring intellectual failures to understand even the very “idea” of America. And the typical American’s belief in American exceptionalism.
“America” as a concept has no meaning (or, at best, the wrong meaning) for the current President of the United States.
1. Give the “Palestinians” their nation in the West Bank.
2. “Palestinians” will continue terrorist attacks against Israel.
3. Being a sovereign nation the “Palestinians” are subject to international law on war.
4. Israel being fed up with this nonsense will simply attack and take over the West Bank.
5. Expel all “Palestinians” from West Bank and force the surrounding Arab nations to absorb their relatives.
6. Annex West Bank into Israel proper.
7. No more problem.
Why? Because there are no such thing as “Palestinians”. It is a fiction. A made up people that have never existed at any time, any where. The reality is that the “Palestinians” are nothing more than Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese, etc etc etc; e.g Arabs.
That they remain as “refugees” is merely a political ploy. And as long as the USA and Israel continue to play that imbecilic game this continuing nonsense will be the result.
What I’ve outlined will happen. The only question is when and how many people will die until it does.
Americans instinctively side with the underdog.
Tiny Israel surrounded and vastly outnumbered by millions of hateful enemies bent on its destruction is the plot of a thousand movies we love.
Meanwhile, the incompetent, corrupt sheriff Obama rides into town, exits his clown car and declares, “This time you have ME….”
The audience senses the real hero will emerge later in the plot and the sheriff will get his comeuppance for being an arrogant, self-serving boob.
Mr. Mead, I think you give the President more credit than he is due. I don’t think he is thoughtful or urbane, nor do I think he is offering interesting policy ideas and approaches.
All he is done is adopt as his administration’s policy, a stand that was explicitly characterized as “the Palestinian goal” in an Israeli Foreign Ministry statement quoting Secretary of State Clinton in 2009 widely quoted in the mistaken belief that it shows the President’s formulation of a settlement “based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps” was the outcome favored by the United States.
President Obama has gone probably considerably farther than his political advisors would have wished, in explicitly aligning his administration with the goals of Fatah and Hamas.
That is neither thoughtful nor urbane. It is either craven appeasement or an outright betrayal of the long and firmly held views of the American people, and of the West itself.
‘The country I come from is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there he laws to abide
And that land that I live in has God on its side.’
‘And you never ask questions when God’s on your side.’
‘If God is on our side he’ll stop the next war.’
A whole lot of Obama’s approach to the world is based on punishment and reward, doled out by him. If you offend Obama, or are on the wrong side of an issue that he cares about, you’ll get punished by him or his bureaucracy. If he wants something from you, you’ll get a reward, but the whip is in hand and will appear at some point.
The problem with this is he tends to punish friends, since they inevitably offend him at one point or another, while enemies have a far low standard of “offense”, and they get rewarded.
When King Charles heard that verse repeated to him,he declared that it was indeed true…for whereas his words were his own,his actions were those of his ministers/
1. Yes, Mr. Mead, “Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth.” And that is for a numbe rof reasons, some of which you articulated. But let’s get something straight. Israel is not our 51st sate. some of its proponents act as if it was.
2. A question for you all. Why is it America’s responsibility to solve the Israel-Palestine hate-fest? That was a trick question, Mr. Mead. The answer is that it isn’t.
3. “The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. “ Really? Interesting theology. Where did you pick it up from?
4. As for our illustrious B. Hussein Obama. Come on, does anyone thing the man could change a flat tire on a car if his life depended on it — or that he could have gotten into Ivy League on a color blind basis???
A lot of people get into Ivy League colleges for sketchy reasons. Generally speaking they don’t end up on the Harvard Law Review.
May 26, 2011 at 10:24 am
LOL. Your understanding of Christian doctrine is …deeply …ecumenical (not a compliment). Ever heard of Covenant – or even Dispensational -Theology?
Those two theological gestalten (gestalts?) are at the heart of American Christian epistemology. You can’t possibly understand that key fact of American Christianity, given the kind of stricture you espouse in your biblical interpretation.
…and so obviously wrong to even hope for intellectual redemption of your POV LOL (pun intended). I do have a verse for you though: Mat 7:3 “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
Meade got it right.
“The idea that God has a special place in his heart for Americans is a primitive and barbarous notion.”
Maybe. But is it also barbarous to believe that God has placed some pretty special – as well as thoroughly exacting – demands and expectations upon Americans? Perhaps even on certain other Western English-speaking nations, with whom it might behoove us – could we ever get down off our post-Western pedestals – to work in concert? And that so far, in many areas of opportunity, we’ve been pretty much failing dismally to meet them? Or that we’ve seldom been farther from meeting those same Divine expectations than when we were either most confident of having the job in hand, or most angrily determined to “carry it through” at all costs?
I often wonder if America’s peculiarly angry manner of defending our Christian Western inheritance is not unlike that of the 1st-century Zealots, with their militant defense of Roman Palestine’s “purer” Jewish legacy and culture. My deepest suspicion, in fact, only follows out that line of thought further. It is that IF we Yanks, like the Zealots, continue to misinterpret the implications of our “chosenness” (bad word – any suggestions?), our own “zealotry” is likewise going to end up bringing the entire Temple down round our heads.
To (over)extend the metaphor, today’s liberal Europeans, with their – to put it politely – decidedly reductionist view of the West’s Christian inheritance, remind me not a little of the 1st-century Sadducees. They simply can’t quite bring themselves to see, much less diagnose, the actual, lethal danger our civilization is in. Politely accommodate the “infidel” and all will be well. But if I’m right, then what are we Yanks? How much more are we Americans, with our vaunting over-confidence in our power, not only to “diagnose and prescribe,” but to apply and embody the FULLNESS of that same Christian inheritance, something much more like the opposite party? How much more are we the “Pharisees” of the situation? And did either come to any good, in terms of what they were actually trying to achieve and preserve?
“Obama always seems to find the ‘sour spot’ because throughout his life he’s gotten a pass on his lack of rigorous thinking. Thus, the intellectual maturity gained by trial and error; running businesses, working around corporations and bureaucracies, testing scientific theories, is alien to our president.”
Unlike our formidably practical Cheneys, Rumsfelds, etc. Men who’ve had ample experience, if not actually of running businesses, then at least of working around – and even to the top of – corporations and bureaucracies, perhaps even of testing some scientific theories (of management, weapons capability, tactical improvement, etc). And so they proceed to go from success to success, and glory to glory. That is, until they encounter a peculiar set of HUMAN problems – as distinct from the operational, procedural, technical variety. Problems that are, let us say, not exactly amenable to confinement within these most efficient gentlemen’s chosen paradigms.
Then again, I suppose, who are any of us to complain or single out? It seems to be almost a given of our Global American Philosophy (GAP), as I like to call it, that to virtually every problem among human beings there is always either a technical, a business, or a violent solution. Or some combination of the three. Or else that the World is moving so VERY fast, and presumably Human Nature along with it, that very soon quiet literary men like Chekhov and Goethe and Shakespeare – perhaps even the writers of Scripture – will have almost nothing to teach us about either one. In which case my question remains: As the world keeps getting BIGGER, and seemingly more unpredictable, will our confidently analytical, technical, procedural, oh-so-businesslike approach to complex things ever achieve the HUMAN scope – much less the Divine-human patience and subtlety – required to keep pace with it?
“There have really been two Barack Obamas: the mortal man and the cultural icon. If the actual man is distinctly ordinary, even a little flat and humorless, the cultural icon is quite extraordinary….He represents a truly inspiring American exceptionalism.”
An insightful corollary to WRM’s ditty whose word no man relies on, who never said a foolish thing or ever did a wise one is Shelby Steele’s May 25th piece in Wall Street Journal. Steele provides additional context to “The Dreamer Goes Down For The Count” as chronicling Obama’s sustained ride in the clown car.
Old hymn lyrics about “going down to glory in the New Jerusalem” and Reagan’s references to a “shining city on a hill” come from seeds planted in the national collective unconscious of the USA by our Pilgrim, Puritan forebearers. Small wonder we feel a bond to those who dwell in the Old Jerusalem.
@Madrid: “To be as brief as possible, one of the most important tenets of Christianity is that God does not treat any one people or any one land or place as more holy than any other.”
This is true. It applies to the God of the Old Testament too. God’s promises to Abraham are premised on Israel’s behaving with TZADIC and TAMIM with the people around it. Those were the words used to describe a perfect set of scales: the beam must be straight (TZADIC) and the weights must be whole (TAMIM).
When you are weak, honesty and fair dealing are the best policy. God, who is just, will protect you. In the larger world it was the great mass of ordinary people who were weak. Hence the appeal of the God of the Hebrews.
That was the nub of a little piece of orginal research I did on the origins of Judaism many years ago, back when I converted. I wrote it up in a piece called “The Torah and the West Bank” which the journal Judaism kindly consented to publish. I think it was the first thing in the established Jewish press to criticize official policy of the state of Israel towards the territories (Begin’s government), though I may be wrong about that. Summer, 1987.
a very nice group of commentors you’ve attracted here, Mr. Mead. Also very interesting, and quite illuminating, that you’ve not taken issue with any of their fanatic (and borderline genocidal) anti-Palestinian pathologies.
If I took issue with every comment I’ve disagreed with I’d never do anything else — or post.
Wars are inevitable in the ME, and we’re certainly due another big one soon anyway, but Obama really precipitated this one.
What he said was easily interpreted by the Palestinians and their allies to mean that Israel must withdraw to 1967 lines as a “starting point” for peace. Much of the rest of the world is now hearing it this way too, simply because that’s what they want hear.
And this is all entirely predictable, even though, as WRM pointed out last week, that is not exactly what he said. It’s like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater and then later explaining that you were just quoting a line from a song.
And it’s true, Bush and Clinton also used the 1967 lines as guidelines as the negotiations unfolded. But they were very careful never to blurt out anything in public that might be quoted the way this has. And with good reason.
Now Abbas/Hamas as well as Egypt, Turkey, etc. have a get out of jail free card. Anything they do is now excusable since Israel should have withdrawn to 1967 lines already.
Well this looks like you are coming back to reality Walter, in a previous post you sounded like Obama’s apologist. I loved the clown car reference; in fact Obama spends 10 times more time in front of a teleprompter, than any other major leader ever. I once read a study that showed that Presidential speeches moved public opinion only minutely (even true of Reagan), and that excessive face time actually moved opinion against the President. I think this has been demonstrated by Obama, as he is talking himself out of office.
Hey, Obama! You need more face time, I’m sure you can talk us into thinking like you do; you’re such a powerful speaker. Just keep flogging that dead horse, I’m sure it will help. LOL
I guess this why the UN and EU have endorsed the proposals in Obama’s speech and Netanyahus visit was widely considered a diplomatic failure in Israel. And btw being called unwise by the Earl of Rochester was somewhat akin to being called unwise by Dominique Strauss Kahn.
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert thought the pre-1967 borders should be the starting point for negotiations. So did Israeli PM Ehud Barak and US Pres. Bush Jr. Netanyahu & Clinton signed a joint statement recognizing that this was US policy a few years ago. Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass explained, “anyone here deluding himself . . . that the drawing of the new map will be based on any reference point other than the 1967 boundaries is simply disconnected from reality.”
As Jeffrey Goldberg put it, “If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning.”
To give dinner-theater criticism of the speeches is to abdicate the responsibility of a foreign policy analyst.
In policy terms, Netanyahu’s determination to take offense at something everyone had known for decades, and his “Occupation today, Occupation tomorrow, Occupation forever” tone and policy, are a practical, political, and moral catastrophe for Israel.
It is, for the first time, imaginable that Israel will break with the US, and become the perpetually occupying pariah state that its critics have imagined.
Better, and more accurate, to say America has a special place in its heart for God.
As for chosenness of the chosen people, it would be just as accurate to say the Jews chose God — off and on. The offness and onness is the story of that people.
I think you give Ovomit too much credit!
Nice article. The only discordant note was the comparison between Harvard and Texas A&M. Harvard’s star is shining a bit less brightly of late, largely due to self-inflicted wounds. Obama, Barney Frank and Eliot Spitzer are all Harvard Law grads. I rest my case. Otherwise, spot on.
I didn’t think that Harvard would beat Texas; it was the other way round.
Who is “Our guy”?…Who is “foreign leader”?
I recently subscribed to WSJ and have been reading it on regular basis.I believe that it’s not different from any cheap right wing propaganda machine. Articles usually in Opinion section are filled with hate towards President Obama,and forget the real reason. A very good example is Walter Russell Mead. Many, and in fact most of the people in comments section who took the time to write appeared to be unbiased and knowledgeable. Anybody who is anti-Obama is considered to be an intellectual, in WSJ. I quote the opening sentence “The always astute Walter Russell Mead has a lengthy and penetrating analysis of President Obama’s recent Mideast peace efforts”. And after reading most of the comments,written by readers like me really amazed me, and they questioned the very motive of Mr. Mead’s article. They appeared to be unbiased, intelligent and far more interesting than the article written by Mr. Mead who really did no know much about Christianity.
I really do not mean to insult his intelligence, but you leave me no choice. If this is all I’d be seeing in your reputable paper. I might as well switch to a paper which has better and at least somewhat unbiased Editorials and op-ed columns.
You may use my user name “A Quiet American”.
He has actually failed not only in areas that he considered vital, he has failed at the very things that were supposed to be his strong suits going into this presidency. He is a divider, not a uniter. He is hyper-partisan, not post-partisan, and he has increased Americas involvement in foreign conflicts, not diminished them. He is a warmonger. If he is so incapable of what little introspection it would take to at least acknowledge this to himself, he must also be a narcissistic borderline personality, a sociopath.
“As for chosenness of the chosen people, it would be just as accurate to say the Jews chose God…”
They chose a god who chose them–how convenient.
Obama is not “our guy”. Netanyahu is.
I just cannot help myself but crow some here. I remember the outdoor speech just before inauguration where the people were agog and awash with tears of total adoration of the ONE.
I said, then, to my wife, “these very same people are going to want his head before he finishes the first term”.
I saw him as a narcissistic bloviator and neophyte all along.
Kudos for me, it is gratifying but not really, as we all take it on the chin as embarassed Americans at a time when we really are in need of a real leader who could at least give us the man to rally behind instead of the man to be put behind and forgotten about.
Nothing left to say that already hasn’t.
I am not sure if Israel is happy with the God that gave them this choice piece of land. Being “all of nine miles” wide it is starting to look indefensible. Perhaps Israelis should give God an updated GPS so next time God gives them any more land he does it right. And yes they will be demanding more land. Moses and Aaron, are you listening? We are not happy down here, again.
President Obama has spent his entire life reinventing himself. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is only his most recent attempt to navigate between the broader American experience, this time via Israel, and where he comes down. WRM’s Dreamer Goes Down For Count and Obama Throws Palestine Under The Bus As World Hails His Courage illustrates Obama’s life arc as a man of many masks. (cf. Shelby Steele, Wall Street Journal, May 25,2011)
The “Jeremiad” tradition goes from Jonathan Edwards to Frederick Douglass to Ronald Reagan.
It’s being lost a little today because we don’t instruct our children, but old-timers understand. Hence the cultural divide with the (now-unemployed) young whose tongues formerly hung out for their superstar with the cool name.
Good job on the Rose show Walter!
Good discussion by all four panelist on Charlie Rose show even though you had least face time WRM.
Four strange things in the speech are rarely mentioned.
1) The “contiguous” statement either means Israel cut in half or a Judenrein West Bank. Which did Obama mean? Why would Israel agree to either? Is it really possible to move half a million people West to Israel proper? Who will do it? The IDF? Dream on! There are 100,000 people in Ariel alone.
[“There should be no _______ living in ______.” Fill in the first blank at any dinner party with any people other than Jews and see what names you’re called.]
2) An “unarmed” “sovereign” state of Palestine is an oxymoron. All sovereign states have the right to a defense which of course can be used for offensive purposes. Who does Mr. Obama suggest who will police the disarming of that State so Israel’s borders will be secure?
3) Israel must be able to defend itself “by itself.” What did Obama mean by “by itself?” Read 2) again and you have the status quo.
4) If Mr. Obama sought to recognize and pay respect for sovereign states, why did he express his will to micromanage the affairs, both foreign and domestic, of a host of nations, including Israel, Syria, the mythical “Palestine,” etc.?
My problem with the Obama speech is that it’s just plain stupid: it’s thoughtless, shows no understanding of simple common political structure and even less about international law.
Unfortunately we agree, Mr. Mead, that this incredibly stupid speech has brought war much nearer, much sooner.
BTW: the Putitans imagined the Atlantic as the Jordan and America as the Promised Land. There was a failed effort (supported by Benjamin Franklin) to get Moses crossing the Red Sea on the presidential seal. One of the States did adopt this image, however. So there is some kind of deep symbolic identification. NB how far degraded British feeling has come from William Blake’s “Jerusalem” to the present Archbishop of Canterbury’s mindless drivel!
Walter Russell Mead said, “As Winston Churchill put it, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” A frozen conflict is better than a burning one — not least for the civilians caught up in the cross-fire.”
Ah, but there is nothing “frozen” about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict during peace-processing; for traditionally, half the Palestinians have thought that blowing up Jews was the way to strengthen their negotiating position, while the other half of the Palestinians blew up Jews to end the talks altogether. Recall that Hamas began suicide-bombing the buses in Jerusalem in 1994, at the height of Oslo.
Ah! Speaking of the Bible.
Leaving out how simple minds have reduced the Bible to the lowest common denominator — literal intepretation by the literal minded — it bears mentioning that it’s psychological meaning has been lost in translation. The call in the Bible is for individual man to wake up! Within, it suggests strongly that “we” are asleep. Or better, that “I” am asleep. As soon as one turns his (or her) attention to the complexity of the self, making this observation of self central to ones concern, the closer one moves toward the central objective that the originators of the Bible intended. One way of getting at the central problem is to propose that this material ought never have been written down. This material ought to be conveyed directly from one man to another. From one who understands, to one who wishes to understand; from one who clearly understands, to one who recognizes his own lack of understanding. Rare are the books which convey this well; I would recommend The New Man by Maurice Nicoll.
This effort is NOT navel gazing…it IS about the struggle to see myself as I really am, INSIDE…not as I IMAGINE, but as I am. This effort is the effort to begin with. After this effort is made most of us discover that the other guy, Obama or whoever, may wear shoes that we could never fill. Most of us grow on the job; give the guy a break. None of the presidents have been perfect, but they stood up for the job. Try legitimate criticism rather than offensive diatribe…it is far more interesting and constructive when it occurs.
Mixing up levels is a perennial disaster for man. To illustrate: A grade four arithmetic student wandering into a post graduate physics symposium will not understand the formula clearly written on the chalkboard. No one is hiding its meaning from him. He may though be encouraged, albeit with coaching, that his grade four arithmetic leads somewhere; this valuation may even inspire him.
Most opinion about Biblical meaning, God, and what He meant, is as though the grade four child, who instead of asking questions about what he saw on the chalkboard, and discerning that the way foreward would be to find a teacher who could answer his questions, instead, had all kinds of opinion of his own about what he saw on the chalkboard.
Of course, we want God to answer us directly…but perhaps He is busy with those who have worked their way up through the beginner grades first. Though, why we deny the evidence of something higher is a perennial mystery, even though astrophysists have disclosed to us an immensity well beyond comprehension, which has existed for a duration equally beyond comprehension, within which we briefly exist and and could not exist with out it. We need to be more in a state of questioning rather than answering. As long as we continue to behave naively and vainly and self importantly, as though we always know, rather than that we don’t know, we will merely continue to pour from the empty into the void.
Finally. As to Christianity, the struggle is to become a Christian, not to proclaim arrival. When we are Christ like we will be Christians. We may be on the road to being like Christ; but who is there?
I have always had a grudging respect for Charles II — a far more skilfull monarch than either his father or brother and who, it often seems to me, could be quite favourable compared to several others. I do not think the same can be said, or will be said, about the current occupant of the White House.
A more striking comparison to Obama would have been King John of Magna Carta fame. John, an arrogant and incompetent leader, who failed at both domestic and foreign policy. At one point, in order to protect his crown, he even swore fealty to Pope Innocent III.
Excellent commentary – with some misfortunate distractions like; “Bill Clinton run against Bob Dole” simply doesn’t fit with the other examples given. “The GOP, in trouble recently as voters recoil from what many see as Republican extremism on issues like Medicare and public unions” comes in way out of left field as if the author is recognizing that he has drifted too far from his own leftward leanings and must say something that is demeaning of the GOP to make himself feel right with the world.
Or perhaps I just think that the 96 race was a lopsided mismatch and that the Kid from Hope ran rings around a very honorable and wise opponent who I admire to this day.
Looking back, this was not Mead’s finest post. Still, he bats pretty high.
God looks favorably upon those who help themselves, and He despises the lazy, the embittered, and the indolent. Always has, and always will.
Peace should have happened many years ago, and the Palestinians are the ones to blame for the fact that it hasn’t; Bill Clinton himself is on record as confirming this.
They have been ill-served by both by their Muslim “friends”, and by their own fanatical shortsightedness. Their sorry lot in life won’t move forward even one millimeter as long as they cling to their insane fantasy of driving all the Jews into the sea and taking over the entire Holy Land.
“God looks favorably upon those who help themselves, and He despises the lazy, the embittered, and the indolent. Always has, and always will.”
I will be eternally grateful that your statement is completely untrue and contrary to the Scriptures. Man spent thousands of years trying to “help themselves” and made an absolute mess of it. Thus the sending of His Son to help the helpless. His greater favor was and is shown to the least likely among us. If God only looked favorably upon those convinced of their own abilities, His Son would have had no need to die on a cross.
Beautifully put…only one caveat on this one, and I realize Dr Mead has to leave this to less responsible feedback artists. (Us retirees or the unemployed with time on their hands I guess).
I have been convinced since the ’08 campaign that Obama suffers from Type 2 Narcissism. Everything in his background fits into the classic Narcissistic makeup.
If true that means he does NOT have the intellectual means to reach the kind of deep understanding Dr Mead speaks of. That is why his admin cannot create policy that is efficacious. He DON’T GET IT since Narcissists, as most of you know, are unable to receive and process ideas like us (“normal”?) Type 3’s.
Think of it as a puzzle. Any piece (idea) that is received has to fit the puzzle or it is rejected. And the puzzle represents his relatively narrow Weltanschaung, belief set, ideology or however you want to put it.
This disorder is a weakness (in his chosen field anyway) that is dangerous for him, the country and the world. No one with this pathology should ever be POTUS no matter what their “vision thing” may be.
Obviously I cannot posit the above with absolute certainty. Especially since I don’t know the man. But he lives in a fishbowl where so many of this thoughts and actions are analyzed to a fare-thee-well. That makes it much easier to make judgments from afar…and I am convinced I am right.
You know, watching President Obama’s speech last week, I was reminded of something.
Some years ago, Brittany Spears made a movie, and the critics, as critics are wont to do, torched the poor thing to death. When some smart-ass entertainment reporter asked Brittany why the critics hated her film, she sniffed back that she had made the film for her fans, and not for critics.
That is what I think can be said for the President’s speech: it was for Obama fans only, not for critics.
It never ceases to amaze me how the President’s MSNBC cheerleaders seem to coo endlessly over these torturously nuanced speeches of his, where it becomes almost impossible to know what he is really trying to say unless Andrea Mitchell or Chris Matthews are there to translate for him. The speeches always follow the usual, dreary, mind-numbingly equivocal pattern so beloved by the MSNBC crew: everyone is at fault and no one is at fault, so let’s all put the past behind us, cast aside despair for hope, and build for a new tomorrow.
Of course, the President pushed for a two-state solution with modified ’67 borders, denounced the settlements, spoke disapprovingly of the Fatah-Hamas merger, and scolded the Palestinians for ditching negotiations for UN sanctioned statehood, which, he correctly pointed out, they will not get. From my perspective this is all well and good, though the pro-maximalist/pro-rejectionist, pro-Hamas, anti-Israel left will think it yet another victory for Israeli colonization, ethnic cleansing, land theft, dispossession, apartheid, and genocide etc, etc, etc…
Whatever. But the point that all can agree on is that the President really said nothing new, and just rolled out the same old even-handed tripe. He really had nothing to say, and just said something because he had to say something for the occasion, which was really not much of anything at all, as usual.
He said what his advisers have told him to say for his election prospects, and to avoid being hassled from pro-Israel members of Congress. But the question persists: what are his real feelings on the on the ME and I/P conflicts? I sometimes wonder.
Candidate Obama came into the presidency with some starry-eyed assumptions about his ability to tame the furies of the Middle East. Confident of his powers of persuasion, he was sure he had the long awaited answer to the I/P conflict. Eager to “restart” the peace process, he willfully ignored the intransigence of the Palestinians and the compromises and concessions made by Israelis in the past decade and, consulting his friends in the pro-Palestinian left-liberal foreign policy establishment, decided to make the freezing of settlements in the West Bank a precondition for further talks. This shocked and bewildered many. Even the Palestinians had never made this a precondition for further talks, as it was always understood since the 1993 Oslo Accords that they would be dealt with in final status negotiations. The Palestinians, who were as bewildered as anyone by Obama’s demand, nonetheless adopted it as their own, for, as Abbas told Newsweek recently, he could hardly afford to do anything less, lest he be seen as less pro-Palestinian than the President of the United States.
After much hectoring, the President duly obtained from the Israelis a 10 month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Predictably, it did not a whit of good; the Palestinians still refused direct negotiations despite the freeze, demanded an extension of the freeze when it elapsed, and are still refusing direct talks in any event. So, that’s where we are today. Obama, in the end, achieved a minor miracle of diplomatic incompetence: he elevated what was previously an issue to be negotiated between the parties in a final settlement to a precondition for further discussions, given the Palestinians a new alibi for intransigence, and increased Israel’s diplomatic isolation as well as becoming the least trusted American President among both Israel and the Palestinians. Quite an achievement, that.
His courtship of the gangster-mullahs of Iran has followed a similar trajectory. The problems with Iran, he was sure, stemmed from America’s hawkish and aggressive posturing, from which Iran’s rulers, seeking only comity and peaceful co-existence, had naturally and understandably recoiled. Our beastliness and our warmongering had driven them to pursue nuclear weapons, to lavishly fund terrorism in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and to take harsh measures against its own people. Our hostility and duplicity (“lying” about WMD, you know?) have made it impossible for Iran’s rulers to negotiate with us in good faith; we are simply too untrustworthy. All that was needed here was an open hand offering friendship and a soft word, and the mullahs, being rational, reasonable folks just like us, would overcome their distrust and hostility, see the errors of their ways, and get with the program. Engagement was the key.
Also, our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with our blind and unscrupulous support for Israel’s “oppression” and “occupation” of the Palestinians, is the obstacle to Mideast peace and has understandably put into doubt our integrity, our impartiality, and our good faith.
In sum: the furies wreaking havoc both in and from the region come not from culturally and politically dysfunctional societies long wedded to a centuries-old pathology of violence, oppression, corruption, and cultural stagnation, but, rather from the United States, and, of course, Israel.
Obama’s handling of the I/P peace process has gone to pot, and in return for the open hand of friendship he extended to the mullahs he got a clenched fist and a thumb in his eye. The mullahs spat contempt on his friendly gestures, brutally suppressed a pro-democracy protest to a rigged election, and continued ahead unabashedly with their nuclear program.
The President ignored the mullahs’ rebuffs, snored through the brutal crackdown of the pro-democracy Green Movement, and continued dreaming his no-more-nuclear-weapons dreams all the way to his fall-2009 UN speech even after an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility had been discovered at Qom, which he deemed too impolitic to mention, lest it derail his “engagement” fantasies with the mullahs.
The President, to be fair, seems to have recovered from a few of his dewy-eyed assumptions: he now realizes that the mullahs’ pursuit of a nuclear weapon will not be deterred by friendly gestures, and he has recently been acquainted with the stone-cold wall of Palestinian rejectionism.
He seems to have genuinely thought that by putting distance between the US and Israel, and criticizing the settlements, he would incur goodwill and concessions from the Palestinians. It did not. It merely raised their expectations about what he would deliver for them, increased their disappointment with him when he did not deliver, and intensified their intransigence. Obama’s whole approach was revealed to them for what it was: weakness to be exploited.
However much they may have welcomed the criticism of both Israel and Bush in his 2009 Cairo speech, the tribal-minded among them could not have failed to see the faithlessness of his treatment of his ally, or the self-serving cynicism in his disparagement of one of his own countrymen in a foreign land. There is an old Arab saying: it is my brother and I against our neighbor, and all of us against the stranger. The President was revealed as a feckless, faithless, ingratiating equivocator who could be played for the duration. He just did not understand: the Arabs respect strength and resolution, and they despise weakness like a cockroach to be stomped on a kitchen floor. The President, alas, had been seen as a weak horse.
The time when his words had any effect is long past. His efforts have come to naught, and, harassed by domestic concerns, he does little but splutter and whine about about his ineffectuality, and continue his stewardship of our decline.
Perhaps the bin Laden hit will change that perception along with his attitude; I certainly hope so. But I have my doubts.
I have the feeling that if the President was injected with truth-serum before his AIPAC speech he would have said something like the following:
“We all know what the real obstacle of ME peace is folks. It’s the settlements. Yep. You heard me. If only those loony right wing Israelis would stop their stupid settlement building, all would be well and there would be the peace. I’ve known this for a long time; my friend Rashid Kalhidi told me so.
He also told me about what you Israelis have been getting away with all of these years while being appeased and pampered by the Jews, er, I mean, neo-cons in the Bush administration. You guys have had quite a ride, and think you’ve got it made here. You act like you own the joint. Well, I got news for the Jews: I’m president now and you’re not; Bush is now president of his Crawford ranch, and Cheney, well, don’t get me started on that war-mongering, water-boarding, neo-con troll, or I may never stop. Suffice to say, he can rot.
I’ve had it up to here with all your settlement building and occupation and checkpoint shenanigans. And please shut up with all your whining about your “security.” I’m sick to death with hearing about it and I’ve heard it all before: blah, blah, blah. I’ve got other things to worry about than your stupid problems. Ever hear of health care, or the economy?
My advisers tell me that making the kind of statements I’ve just made will piss off pro-Israel members in Congress and, of course, the people in the all-powerful Israel lobby. Stephen Walt can explain.
And since I don’t intend to be put into early retirement a year from this November, I’ll make the perfunctory happy-face pro-Israel token statement I promised my pollsters and advisers I would make. Here goes:
Israel is a great country and a wonderful friend.
There, I said it. Happy now?!”
Thanks for the insights, though I think a caveat is deserved: though dangerously flat-footed, at least Obama is attempting to get something done. I seem to recall GW throwing out some early ideas, watching them fall apart, then taking up a holding pattern.
Also, Netanyahu is a great patriot and quasi-American, but he has nothing to gain from going along with Obama. What if, for instance, Tzipi Livni was now PM? Of course, Obama has to deal with those in power, but politically, he’s stuck having to try something before his second presidential run. That means he’s stuck having to try to make a good faith effort with Netanyahu. His failures are not entirely on him.
PS – I’m a conservative, but most of your commenters wish I wasn’t.
Well-done. You speak for me.
What a treat. Mr. Meade’s comments followed by Mr. Werdine’s. You guys are quite the team. Any interest in a no-holds-barred tag-team cage match against Walt and Mearsheimer?
Mr. Mead says:
“The President’s descriptions of the situation are comprehensive and urbane. He correctly identifies the forces at work. He develops interesting policy ideas and approaches that address important political and moral elements of the complex problems we face. He crafts approaches that might, with good will and deft management, bridge the gaps between the sides. He reads thoughtful speeches full of sensible reflections.”
This analysis of the President makes it clear why he might have been a fine lecturer in an introductory class, but why he persistently fails to get much beyond that. To a knowledgeable audience, he comes across as unoriginal and not intellectually involved in the material. This impression is further borne out by his often shallow treatment of issues, frequent use of straw-men to represent his adversaries, and his apparent belief that his dramatic cadences and sonorous voice are adequate substitutes for respecting ones audience having a compelling argument.
Another noticeable trait of his is that he rarely gives anybody a compliment without it being followed almost immediately by an attack which completely negates the compliment. I wonder if he knows how insincere and graceless he looks.
Contrast all this with GWB. When he gave a speech, he sketched some background, illuminated our national interest, and stated–coherently, I might add–the position of the United States. And while you might not have agreed with it, you at least knew what he said, that he meant it, and he intended to follow through on it. In other words, he spoke and behaved like an experienced executive (because he had been one).
There is a very simple reason why the Palestinians were so shocked when Obama became so concerned with the settlements; their so-called “demographic” advantage. Why should any reasonable person care about where the Jews are living when they are eventually going to be massively outnumbered in the whole territory of Palestine between the Jordan and the sea. The Jews should be permitted to choose among any and all of the available deck chairs on the Titanic.
I have a question for Mr. Mead… How is it that the US is so pro-Israel and Europe isn’t?
Walter Russell Mead says:
May 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm
He found the “sour spot”, again. That says it all.
“Walter Russell Mead says:
May 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm
A lot of people get into Ivy League colleges for sketchy reasons. Generally speaking they don’t end up on the Harvard Law Review.”
Generally speaking they don’t end up as president of Harvard Law Review without writing any articles on the law either. Obama is an exceptional fellow.
If I could recommend a book to President Obama it would be “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War” (2008), by Benny Morris. Morris covers a lot of familiar ground here, but one of the things that stood out to me was the intensity of the rejectionism of the Arabs at the time, and how little it has changed. This might, in all seriousness, give the President a clue to why the Palestinians have proven so recalcitrant and intransigent in the face of all his mollifying and appeasing. Indeed, he would find it most instructive. He would see how Arab rejectionism has run like a black, sinister thread through the whole conflict: their rejection of the Faisal-Weizmann compromise in 1919, the rejection of the 1937 and 1947 partitions, Nasser’s “three no’s” of 1967, Arafat’s rejection of autonomy in the territories in 1979, his multiple rejections of a sovereign, contiguous state in 2000 and 2001, and Abbas’s rejection of the West Bank in 2008. These rejections are all a matter of record and are beyond dispute.
Just as clear are the compromises and concessions made by the Israelis: the willingness to compromise in 1919, 1937, and 1947; the return of the Sinai to Egypt after the 1956 war and the second return of the Sinai to Egypt in 1981 along with the withdrawal of all Israeli settlements there; the offer of autonomy to the Palestinians in 1979; the withdrawal of Israel from 98% of all Palestinian population centers and the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners (some of them hardened terrorists) in the 1993-2000 period; the unprecedented offers in 2000-2001 of a Palestinian state in some 97% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the removal of all Israeli settlements contained therein; the offer of the return of the Golan to Syria in 2000; the unilateral withdrawals of all Israeli troops, citizens and settlements from South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005; the offer of the West Bank to Abbas in 2008, the 10-month settlement freeze in 2009-2010, the repeated willingness, to this very day, to negotiate directly and without any preconditions which has been met with the Palestinian’s usual intransigence and refusal to reciprocate.
The President might also want to take a peak at Dennis Ross’ “ The Missing Peace,” where the evidence is overwhelming that Arafat never had any intention of making peace and simply used the peace process to pocket as many concessions as he could and entrench himself in the territories for the next round of conflict with Israel. His refusal to compromise and make peace at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and the months following are thus perfectly consistent with this plan of action. He knew there would be no peace. He knew more than anyone the whole culture of maximalist rejection that he himself had cultivated with such care over the decades. He had never attempted to educate or persuade the Palestinian people in the ways of peaceful co-existence with Israel or the necessary and painful sacrifices that would be needed to make a practicable, workable peace with Israel. That was not his style and never his aim. The whole culture of anti-Israel incitement and rejection not only continued under his tenure but flourished and intensified at his behest. To forgo the right of return, that sure recipe to Israel’s demise, to concede the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Holy Palestine, to know that Arab schoolchildren would someday read of him as the “traitor” who “surrendered” Palestine to the Jews, were simply out of the question.
Of course, Arafat was also well aware that making peace with Israel could be hazardous to his health; not for him the fate of Egypt’s Anwar al-Sadat. No thanks. Better to be a live rejectionist than a dead peacemaker. As for the hardships that a prolongation and intensification of the conflict would heap on his stateless and long-suffering people, well, that was their problem; and anyway, what mattered most was not the suffering of his people, but who he knew would get the blame for it: Israel. With images of violence, carnage and death dominating television screens, the UN, the Europeans, the whole cabal of “human rights” and “peace” activists on the internationalist left, and even many Americans would soon resume making all their familiar noises about Israel’s “occupation” and “repression” and in no time everyone would soon forget the peace he had rejected amidst all the fire and smoke and chaos of attack and counterattack. On that he could rely.
The cruelty and the cynicism inherent in Arafat’s strategic calculus were crucial to his success. The manner in which Arafat used the Oslo Peace Process to extract numerous concessions from the Israelis without making any in return was a masterpiece of Machiavellian diplomacy in which every ruse and stratagem advised by the 16th century Florentine diplomat were used with consumate skill and cunning. Diplomacy, for the Palestinians then, is merely war by other means. Of course all this makes a sham out of the words “peace process.” The difference between a war and a peace process is that in a war there is a winner and a loser; in a peace process both sides agree to lose something to win something. Both sides make compromises and concessions toward a common goal: peace. How can a peace-process possibly function and produce results if one side does all the compromising and conceding and the other side remains adamantly inflexible? It can’t.
The sad truth is that the Palestinian leadership (both the PA and Hamas) demand nothing less than a full, uncompromising reversal of the 1948 Nakba. This demand is accompanied by a refusal to acknowledge any responsibility whatever for any role that the previous refusals to compromise and peacefully co-exist have played in the creation and prolongation of the conflict. They want victory, not peace, and the sufferings that a further prolongation of the conflict have and are inflicting on the peoples of the West Bank and especially in Gaza are a matter of complete indifference to them.
The Road Map, issued by the “Quartet” in 2002 to rejuvenate the then-defunct peace-process, was performance based and that the Palestinians, to put it mildly, did not “perform” anything, and could barely get their own house in order in the next several years. The Palestinians fulfilled none of their obligations in Phase one to cease terror, and their efforts at political reform were hapless at best. In 2005, after Israel’s full withdrawal from Gaza, Abbas watched as Hamas spread all over the strip like a slime. In 2006, he lost an election to the terrorist group, and was thrown out of Gaza by them altogether in 2007. In 2008 he received an offer of statehood slightly more generous than the one Arafat thumbed his nose at in 2000/2001, and rejected it without making a single counter-offer, just like his predecessor. In 2009 he told the Washington Post that he was through making concessions and would sit back and watch Obama squeeze Israel for them instead. In 2010 he had effectively jettisoned negotiation for UN support for a state. In 2011 he has now reconciled with the violent terrorist group who evicted him from Gaza, brought them into his government, and, in his recent NYT op-ed, has made it perfectly clear that even statehood within the ’67 borders will only serve as a platform for carrying on the conflict against Israel through other venues. His term of office expired more than two years ago.
The failure of the President to call the Palestinians out forcefully and candidly on their obstructionism is scandalous. The President’s whole handling of the peace process seems to illustrate his peculiar genius for getting the worst of all possible worlds while trying to give the best to everyone. The PA were, and remain today, a wholly dysfunctional polity grievously compromised by corruption, violence, a culture of non-stop hatred and incitement, and a leadership that has now legitimized the very terrorists whose dismantlement was their primary obligation under the Road Map. Abbas’ intransigence toward even coming to the negotiating table, let alone making a final peace, are going to be more pronounced now than ever, and are unlikely to improve with Hamas riding at his side. His stewardship of the Palestinian Authority has been a sad, sorry failure. He has never negotiated in good faith and has sought one alibi after another to refuse numerous peace offers. He is still refusing direct negotiations, still rejecting a two-state solution, still demanding an endless “right of return” to Israel, still refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and still insisting that the Jewish people have no legitimate attachment to Jerusalem and, for that matter, to any of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These facts, sadly, can no longer be denied.
This will not end well.
Very well said Mr.Werdine!
Obama isn’t stupid. He’s evil. Of course his speech brought war closer; it was deliberate. His plan is to intervene on the side of the Palestinians to secure the emasculation of the State of Israel,
At the outst, I must confess that I have never voted for Bibi. Maybe that earns me brownie points, maybe not…I can live with either. Shortly after I moved to Israel in 1997, I voted for Ehud Barak, something I will regret for the rest of my life. Then I voted for Egghead Omlet, and you can still see the residue on my face. Last elections, I gavemy full support to a party whose sole platform was electoral reform, because I think the root cause of our problems here is the rotten system for electing representatives. We managed to get 800 votes! Outstanding. So, I am a total failure as a voter so far!.
But I wanted to establish my credentials here as not being a knee-jerk Bibi supporter, which may also imply that I’m not an automatic Obama-knocker.
In fact, my disdain for Obama comes from somewhere else, which I can encapsulate in a simple sentence. “I don’t get it”. What does the American voter see in him?
Walter Russel Mead’s remarks in “The Dreamer Goes Down For The Count” is a remarkably insightful analysis of what just transpired between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
His analysis of all the very many complicated issues involved is nothing less than brilliant.
And the same should be said of the additional remarks and cogent summary of Mid East history added by commentator, Robert Werdine. Bravo and bravo encore to both gentlemen.
If I may add just one additional point it should also be stated that the world has always admired and highly respected Leaders who do not mince their words and get to the point with force and clarity well aware that when one attempts to please everyone, he only makes matters worse.
The Cuban Missle Crisis is a perfect case in point. President John F. Kennedy weighed the facts, weighed the dangers and acted decisively and the rest is history.
The surest path to failure and self destruction is equivocating and waffling- especially when one does not possess the luxury of “all the time in the world”.
If I were President I would state the facts plainly, succinctly and clearly for the entire world to understand.
1) In 1947/1948 the Arabs were given by the UN, absolutely more than they can ever hope to acquire now. They had half of Palestine.
2) The Arabs were not satisfied and rolled the dice, going to war to try to have the whole pie. They lost and thus “End of Story”.
3) Ever since the Arabs have repeated the same mistakes, waging the same desperate wars and as the immortal Abba Eban so perfectly and eloquently stated, compounding all their follies and failures by doing Israel and the Jews the favor of “Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
4) We all make our own beds, whether we be Kings, Presidents or just the “ordinary little people” and we then have to sleep in them.
5) No nation or man on this Earth can, or should be expected, to extricate another nation or person from the predicament they themselves, and they alone, created for themselves.
6) The Middle East is what the Arabs fashioned for themselves. They can now wallow in self pity and useless anger and useless threats, or come to their senses, accept the realities as they stand, including the geographical realities, and try to live in harmony with their immediate neighbors.
That is what a strong and decisive President would say before the United Nations.
Trying to curry favor with nations whose value systems live in the stone age is bound to failure and only creates a portrait of a wishy-washy world Leader that no one will ever respect and who does no service to his own nation or any of the other nations in this world.
Unfortunately fanatics hear what they want to hear. Look at what happened when April Glaspie gave Saddam Hussein the idea that Kuwait was not part of our vital interests in the Gulf region or the result when somehow S. Korea was inadvertently dropped off our map of protective security in the 50s.
I’m afraid that Obama may have just incited a full-scale war between Israel and the Arabs, not just a new Infitada.
Two incredibly accurate articles. I wish my congresswoman Debby WASSERMAN SHULTZ would read them and use her
influential position to swerve Obama from his path that only leads to America and Israel becoming part of a new world-wide caliphate.Diplomacy is not synonimous with appeasement. Obama’s confrontations should be against
terrorists and their supporters not against Israel and the will of the majority of Americans.
The “Hard Choice” Israel Must Make Is Also
The Only Sane Choice For Israel To Make
“After twenty years of Israel paying a heavy price for its failed attempts at reconciliation with the Arabs despite all its good intentions, the writing is on the wall: Israel simply cannot afford to continue going down the same path of retreat and withdrawal since eventually there will be nowhere left to run”. Yoel Meltzer (yoelmeltzer.com)
Mr. Meltzer has summed up Israel’s situation perfectly.
Israel must finally draw a line in the sand and state clearly to the world.
1) We will not risk our nation’s survival on treaties that can be broken at will at any time.
2) We know that the long term objectives of our neighbors will never change- the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.
3) Our enemies have stated clearly they aim to destroy Israel and we believe them. (Why would they lie?)
4) We will not be so foolish as to aid our enemies in our own destruction.
5) We will be ready. We will retaliate against any serious attack in the future, from anyone, with devasting and overpowering force. The next war will be a one day war.
Our enemies still have not learned anything from past wars. Israel will make certain they will learn from any future war.
The world only respects strength.
The world only hears and understands those who speak from strength.
Not one inch. Not one grain of sand.
Israel will not be the one to pay for the past mistakes of those who tried repeatedly and failed to destroy Israel.
This is the only sane position for Israel.
I think Mr. O should not negotiate with Bibi anymore. I understand Kadima only needs two votes in the Knesset to call for elections and Ms. Levi can accept the very generous swaps that Bibi knows very well will embrace all of the E.side settlements. The quartet has worked out an acceptable demilitized corp and where to station them in the Valley . O should wait until the Isreal rank and file demand elections and then the ordinary Israelite and Palestinian can ” truck and trade” and the Clergy and Politicians know that then their influence will wane. Its time to get somebody Mr. O can negotiate with. Gilbert Prudhomme
CLARITY! Bravo to Mr. Mead and Mr. Werdine and all the above. Imagine a world where political fools actually understand and think before they open their mouths. It gives one pause to wonder….
At 61 years, this has been part of my life..for my entire life!…and what I have learned in my life is that unless a problem is settled it will come back to bite you harder the next time.
Obama may have sewn the seeds of terrible conflagration. Terrible destruction. Terrible human and economic dislocation and misery. All because he’s trying to pander.
Oh, for just a moment’s clarity! what a grotesque display!
I am no great admirer of Bibi, but in this case he’s got my vote! His voice is the only one saying the same thing each time….clearly!
Classic case of winning the battle, but losing the war for Bibi.
barmy Obama has shown his anti Israel and anti British feelings. his actions speak louder than his words.
His father is a Moslem Mau Mau freedom fighter, or terrorist. This group butchered black and white civilians alike in pre independent Kenya. Obama returned the bust of Winston Churchill, a gift to the White House back to the UK. It was replaced by one of Martin Luther King. Both were great men, why not have the two?
Obama has been a disaster for world peace and for the security of Israel. As for the USA, I’ll leave that for the Americans to decide his nationasl programme.
Gilbert Prudhome is an idiot if he thinks that Israel should neogtiatie with BHO! That man has no scruples, has no love for Israel, threw it under the bus, intended to insult BIBI -and did so last year by keeping him waiting. BIBI should have picked him up turned him upside down and stomped on him! Obama is an idiot like Gilbert! Israel has to defend itself from BHO!
“That man has no scruples, has no love for Israel, threw it under the bus, intended to insult BIBI”
Since when is it is obligatory for an American President to “love Israel”? Its another country, which has its own interests which are not synonymous with our own. If you love Israel so much, join the IDF, stop demanding unlimited aid.
It seems to me that love of Israel cannot be so overwhelmingly important in America, if Obama could be elected President without “getting” Israel.
Over ten years ago, Fortune Magazine featured an article in the December 8, 1997 issue, written by Jeffrey Birnbaum, called Washington’s Power 25. It listed the most powerful lobbies in Washington, as determined by a survey of Congress itself. AIPAC came in second, after the AARP. Would anyone claim that this influence has waned in the intervening years? If so, take a look at the 29 standing ovations Netanyahu’s latest smug, vacant speech earned from Congress. Search for and read the accounts of Eric Cantor telling Netanyahu that Congress would keep Obama on a leash. The examples are endless, but no room here. This is a lobby on behalf of a foreign nation. It solely represents a pro-Likud, belligerent, expansionist ideology…and in my opinion, ruthless and reckless. You might debate the fact that our this lobby is inimical to America’s interests, but you can’t dismiss that point of view out of hand as evil. True, the Religious Right in America, rather than American Jews, is the base of the lobby’s power. But anyone who claims that the lobby’s influence doesn’t exist, or that the lobby itself doesn’t exist, is simply dishonest. That much influence is a cause for alarm. Disagree? The NRA was number three–does that bother you?
Just wanna state that this is extremely helpful, Thanks for taking your time to write this.
Around the turn is another election and we shall see how the dreamer fair this time.
The Arabs are tribal culturally. You’re in the wrong tribe, TS. The “Palestinians”, or displaced Arabs, have not been integrated because their tribal affiliation has made it easy for the other Arab countries to use them as the poster children of Israel’s founding. That, plus the fact that the UN is a big sponsor of the “refugee camps” all but eliminates anything but pandering in the liberal mind in the quest to fix the problem.
And, Obama’s tool in this fiasco has been Hillary, she of the Arafat spouse hug and kiss right after Sufa gave a speech vilifying Israel as poisoning the Palestinians, among other charges. The same Wellesly graduate who wrote her thesis on the Palestinian issue.