Obama’s Speech: Not Cairo 2009

Barack Obama’s much-anticipated speech has now come and gone, and those of us who had very low expectations for it were not disappointed.

There was nothing new, and much that was tired, familiar and demonstrably ineffective regarding Israel and the Palestinians, and a decidedly tepid response to the Arab Spring.

Obama presented a distressingly familiar, neo-liberal plan for economic assistance for Egypt and Tunisia, complete with a request for an International Monetary Fund plan, which generally includes strict austerity measures, for strengthening the local economies. Debt forgiveness and loan guarantees for Egypt, totaling $2 billion, as well as private sector stimulation initiatives were promised, but it seems likely that the agenda here is to re-establish American influence through economic controls.

Still, one shouldn’t entirely dismiss these measures—Tunisia and especially Egypt do indeed need economic help, and the measures announced will help, both in terms of debt reduction and in terms of stimulating the private sector.

But what was most important regarding the Arab Spring was what was not said.

While Obama criticized Bahrain and Yemen for their violent responses to protests, no action will be taken. And there was no mention at all of Saudi Arabia, an extremely repressive government that has squashed any hint of protest in its own country and helped Bahrain in their crackdown as well. Continue reading

Bibi Insults Obama Again, Before He Even Gets Here

Today, the day of President Barack Obama’s long-anticipated “Middle East reboot” speech and one day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to meet with Obama, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office (PMO) took up discussionon two major East Jerusalem settlement expansion projects, in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa.

Bibi never misses an opportunity to insult not only Obama but the US

This is not coincidence, nor bureaucratic happenstance. Terrestrial Jerusalem posted information about this more than a week ago. The discussion was intentionally put off before in order not to upset Netanyahu’s discussions with European leaders.

Upsetting the Americans is not a concern.

Truly Israeli hubris knows no bounds. But then, why should it?

Should this cause a controversy, defenders of the occupation will come out of the woodwork to say “it’s no big deal, it’s the Palestinians who are blocking progress, why are you pressuring Israel?” And Congress and, perhaps grudgingly, the President and State Department too will support that line of thinking.

So why should Israel limit its hubris? We encourage it, we allow Netanyahu to embarrass our president, our diplomatic corps, indeed our entire foreign policy in the region. We allow a country we call a friend and ally to doom itself to perpetual conflict, which it eventually cannot win, while pursuing policies that keep a dangerous region dangerous, jeopardizing both American influence in the region and American citizens, in and out of its military, on the ground.

As Daniel Levy has frequently pointed out, every successive commander of CENTCOM (The United States Central Command, the main command post in the Middle East) has agreed that Israeli policies are dangerous for US troops and interests. As every American foreign service officer, including former ambassadors, I’ve discussed this with agrees, Israeli actions severely undermine the US position in the region. Continue reading