Friday, January 16, 2009

Obama's Middle East missteps

The conservative columnist Georgie Ann Geyer in today's Washington Times takes on Obama's foreign-policy appointments - especially as they relate to the Middle East and the "peace process" - as the disappointments that they truly are. In Dennis Ross and Hillary Clinton, the "change" president is sticking with the "tried and [well, maybe not so] true." As I've noted before, Ross, though an "old hand," is stained in Arab eyes by his association with Bill Clinton's 2000 Camp David negotiations, during which he was seen as more of an agent for Israel's interests than as a fair broker. And as Geyer points out, his current association with WINEP (the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy) stains him more deeply, given that WINEP is joined at the hip to the Israel lobby and is widely (and validly) recognized as providing think-tank "cover" for the promotion of Israeli policy in D.C. and beyond. Hillary Clinton, especially as a senator from New York, has consistently put herself firmly in Israel's camp (although the fact that she at least gave a nod toward the suffering in Gaza during her confirmation hearings was a welcome departure from the Bush administration's tone).

And as Geyer also points out, by so quickly and early choosing Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Obama wrong-footed himself with Arab leaders - and an Arab public - who had embraced his candidacy with great hope, only to see him choose in Emanuel a man who had served with the Israeli army in Lebanon, and whose father had been a member of the Irgun, the Zionist terror organization responsible for (among other acts) blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946. On the other hand, his father's past surely provides Emanuel a nice ice-breaker when he hooks up with Tzipi Livni, both of whose parents were with the Irgun as well - her father, in fact, as chief operations officer.

I suspect that the image of Livni and Emanuel sitting down and swapping tales of their parents' escapades "taking out" Arabs back in the day is not going to sit well with either Hamas or Fatah leaders with whom the US and Israel will need to engage. That Obama is either oblivious to this, or simply doesn't give a rip, does not bode well for the trust level with which he's about to join the fray of Arab-Israeli politics.

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