Saturday :: May 21, 2011

Why The Speech?


by Steve
Reuters image

In watching Obama’s speech on the Middle East this week and the reaction to it, I wasn’t surprised with what he said, especially the allegedly controversial part about the 1967 borders being the basis for negotiated swaps. What Obama proposed was consistent with what his two predecessors said, and not that distant from Israel's position. It’s simply that the GOP and Prime Minister Netanyahu have their own reasons for distorting and hyping up their bloviated reactions to it. In the GOP’s case, it doesn’t matter if Obama said almost the same thing as George W. Bush about the borders, the GOP simply wants to harm the president and stir up anti-Obama feelings amongst the American Jewish community. As for Netanyahu, he has no interest in negotiating for peace with any Palestinian, or swapping anything of consequence for peace, and he knows he won’t pay a price for that stance anytime soon.

No, my puzzlement about Obama’s speech is why did he make it at all? Sure, John Boehner was making things difficult for the president by having Netanyahu come address Congress next week, but that didn’t require the administration to jump out ahead of it with a speech that was sure to allow both the GOP and the Likud government to overreact. The rationale and timing of Obama's speech seems odd to me. He and Hillary were on a roll with the post-Bin Laden treatment of Pakistan and the ISI, and could have milked that for another several weeks despite Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress. Letting Netanyahu spew more of his status-quo nonsense and then reacting to that in a more measured way would have been a sufficient reaction for the administration. Yet the White House wanted their own speech, apparently to take back some of the initiative lost when the Arab Spring happened right under their noses. But this speech and the typical Israeli/GOP reaction to it have now pushed the Bin Laden victory lap off the front page and replaced it with a "Obama Made the Israelis Mad" narrative.

There’s another possibility here. The White House saw a chance to gain some attention with the Arab street, but knowingly tweaked both the Likud government and the Palestinians to get the desired pushback. And why would the administration do this? To check off one more box prior to the election, so they could get the negative reaction from both parties as a predicate to burying this issue until after the 2012 election. The administration doesn’t want the major foreign policy issue of the campaign to be Middle East peace; they want it to be the killing of Bin Laden. They know the GOP has no suggestions of their own for achieving Middle East peace other than letting Israel do what it wants, which is not a recipe for progress or for dealing with the aspirations of the Arab street. So the best way to not deal with a problem prior to the election while still wanting to look like you’re trying to get something done is to force the parties to demonstrate obstruction one more time. Mission accomplished. Now Obama can walk away from these efforts until after 2012, when he’ll be in a totally different political position to “go long”.

Steve :: 1:29 PM :: Comments (8) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!