If there was just one thing that everyone agreed on when discussing the Arab Spring that has convulsed the Middle East this year, it was that they uprisings had nothing whatever to do with Israel or its conflict with the Palestinians. Everyone, that is, except President Barack Obama.
According to the New York Times, the president has been considering whether to give a major address in which he would present a “unified theory” of the Middle East linking the Arab revolts to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The good news coming in the Times article is that, contrary to other reports, Obama is not apparently planning to present a new American Middle East peace plan. The Hamas-Fatah unity pact that could transform the “moderate” Palestinian Authority into a terrorist coalition may have convinced even the credulous Obama that the Palestinians are not really interested in making peace. So the officials insist that the big speech that Obama is planning will concentrate more on what is going on in the Arab world than on a final solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
There is an opening here for Obama to sound a clarion call for democracy and transparency throughout the Arab and Islamic world, especially in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Obama is reportedly conflicted about whether to sound an idealistic tone or a more “realistic” one. That has been reflected in the inconsistent and inept manner he has adopted throughout the period of the Arab spring. But since his instinct is to think of America’s role in the world in negative rather than positive terms, he just isn’t comfortable advocating a freedom agenda. The president is still looking for a way out of this conundrum. But the people he is said to be listening to, according to theTimes—CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Times’s own Thomas Friedman—are both lightweight thinkers who are always ready to peddle the latest conventional wisdom, whatever it might be.
The main thing the Times feature conveys is the studied confusion that afflicts the president and paralyzes his decision-making on foreign policy. With such advisers, it may well be that in spite of his avoidance of a specific Middle East peace plan, that the president may seek to sell his “reset” of America’s relations with the Arab world by further distancing the United States from Israel, even though that would not address any internal Arab problem. If so, he will be squandering the political capital he thinks he acquired via the bin Laden death and spending it pointlessly.