Friday, October 16, 2009

US Middle East (and Afghan) Policy now completely wrong-footed

A moment of truth approaches in the UN, now that the UN Human Rights Council has indeed voted to forward the Goldstone report to the Security Council.  There, of course, the US will "protect" Israel by vetoing any move to send the matter of IDF war crimes in Gaza 10 months ago to the International Criminal Court (whose jurisdiction Israel does not recognize in any event).  As I noted here last night, Britain plans to abstain from the vote (which has infuriated the Israeli leadership) - but the US veto will completely undo the good effects of Obama's earlier outreach to the Arab and Muslim worlds.  Steve Clemons of the Washington Note reports today from Jordan, where he sadly notes the tremendous frustration with what they see there as Obama's knuckling under to Netanyahu on the settlement-freeze issue. There's a strong feeling there that Obama's intentions are worthy, but that he simply can't stand up to the pro-Israel pressure within his own government and country - a card that Netanyahu can play to trump any moves Obama might make to try to achieve progress toward a truly just settlement.

It's impossible to understate how devastating all this may be to US standing and prospects for leadership in the Middle East, and beyond.  By the end of his first term, George W. Bush had trashed that with his demolition of Iraq's society and his obvious pro-Israel slant in re the "peace process" sham.  During his second term, people around the world knew the score and maintained no illusions about what the US might do to improve relations with Middle Eastern countries outside Israel.  But Obama's election, combined with his gestures of outreach, offered new hope, a chance at a new beginning - in fact, perhaps the best chance imaginable for a new beginning.  Perhaps Obama has a longer-term game-plan for the peace process, but very few of those (in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere) most directly affected by the intransigence of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman can see that (if it's indeed even there).  The upcoming US veto in the UN Security Council will cement their frustration, which may now rise to levels even higher than during Bush's time.

Meanwhile,  more unraveling in the lands that the US has graced with its military presence.

And speaking of Afghanistan, I recommend highly this essay by long-time reporter Kathy Gannon in Foreign Affairs, about how the US's decision to ally itself there with some of the country's most murderous warlords is coming back to haunt us.

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