Friday, January 23, 2009

The big upsides of George Mitchell

Jim Lobe of IPS has posted on his blog his take on President Obama's (I'm still getting used to saying that - but damn it feels good) remarks on his appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East. If his analysis here is as dead-on as I sense it is), Mr. Obama is moving quickly to change the parameters and basic operating assumptions underlying US involvement in trying to bring peace. Mitchell brings a new - and much needed (and feared by the AIPAC bunch) - sense of balance as well as prestige to the US presence at the table (the don't screw with me kind - a bit reminiscent, actually, of James Baker when he dipped his oar into the Israeli-Palestinian maelstrom under Bush 41).

And it's especially heartening that Mitchell is evidently being trusted with some room to run, and is answering directly to Obama (and not Hillary, whose bona fides as a fair broker were trashed a while ago) - whereas Richard Holbrooke, who's been handed a position as a special representative in re Pakistan and Afghanistan, will evidently be on a tighter leash.

Still undecided, as far as I can make out, is whom Obama may appoint to deal with Iran, but if these appointments are any indication, I'm betting it won't be Dennis Ross, or anyone else too close to the WINEP crowd.

Still though, Obama is treading into a minefield, not only in terms of unforeseen developments and consequences on the Middle Eastern front, but also because he has to fear tweaking the fears of senators and congressmen with constituencies susceptible to being riled by the Zionist and Christian Rightist spokespeople who can loudly insist that Israel be defended at any price. (Of course, some of those same congressmen eagerly count themselves among those spokespeople.)

Why be concerned? Because Obama has another, very important agenda, as we all know - the economic rescue of the USA. He wants to move quickly and decisively, and to do that he will need bipartisan support in Congress. Showing too much sympathy to Palestinian suffering and grievances vs. Israel - as proper and as long overdue as it is - just might siphon away some of that support. And a failure to make progress on that front will surely hurt him more with the American electorate than will failure to bring justice to the Palestinians.

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