Commentary Magazine


I Thought the Campaign Theme Was Change …

During the Jeremiah Wright controversy, Barack Obama developed an excellent strategy for pushing his campaign forward despite it. First, he let the issue fester for a good while, allowing cable news networks, print media, and the blogosphere to probe virtually every possible angle of the issue ad nauseam. Then, the campaign arranged a landmark event — Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia — which promised to address the issue head-on, but was ultimately jam-packed with obfuscations. Finally, the debate shifted away from the controversy and towards Obama’s performance. In this vein, reruns of a screaming preacher suddenly gave way to images of an eloquent contender, and the issue was mostly put to rest.

Well, it looks like the campaign is attempting a similar strategy in the aftermath of Obama’s June 4th AIPAC address, in which he declared that Jerusalem “must remain undivided.” Clearly, this was a bone-headed remark: an “undivided” Jerusalem is mutually exclusive with every realistic conception of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and it’s an issue that U.S. Presidents — let alone presidential candidates — have no business prejudging anyway.

But Obama’s meek backtracking on Jerusalem only raised new questions regarding his depth on foreign policy issues, forcing the campaign to announce another concern-allaying landmark event. In turn, the candidate will visit Israel and the West Bank this coming week. According to reports, the bid to make Obama look like a statesman will include photo-ops with the full roster of A-list Israeli and Palestinian political leaders (though a Middle East Money Shot is probably out of the question).

However, far from allaying concerns regarding Obama’s Middle Eastern bona fides, this trip should only exacerbate them. After all, Obama is merely embarking on the exact same adventure that President Bush has undertaken twice this year, and which Condoleezza Rice has braved twelve times since the beginning of 2007 alone — to absolutely no effect whatsoever. Indeed, Obama’s meetings with Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas will only confirm the impression that he has learned nothing from recent Middle Eastern history, and is prepared to waste more diplomatic resources on two parties that are, at best, negligibly committed to executing what a peace agreement would require.

In an area where U.S. foreign policy could really use a change, the “agent of change” is coming up pathetically short.