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Now What Do We Do, Ollie?

Well, after taking his gripes with Israel’s public and then gingerly having his staff walk it back in briefings and an email, the president goes to Saudi Arabia where he is stiffed by King Abdullah. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The president might be under some illusion that he’ll gain brownie points for “honesty” with Israel (among the Arabs that is who, honestly, have spent 60 years denying Israel’s existence and perpetuating the Palestinians’ grievances).

But King Abdullah isn’t charmed by Obama nor delighted to hear the president grew up in Muslim countries. At least not enough to provoke any meaningful action on his part. And he likely didn’t buy the bit about the U.S. being among the largest Muslim countries. (He may be recalcitrant, but he’s not dumb.) The statement on the meeting provided only a laundry list of the items discussed. Thin gruel indeed.

As Marty Peretz explains:

So what did the president say about all this? Well, he was a bit squishy, not really demanding as he was to the Israelis. But he did make an important point, at least to the B.B.C. “I think we have not seen a lot of potential gestures from other Arab states, or from the Palestinians, that might deal with some of the Israeli concerns.” What would a potential gesture look like?

Perhaps Obama would be satisfied if Netanyahu offered some “potential gestures.”

So where does Obama go now? Back to broadcasting his complaints about Israel and insisting on a settlement concession, which is unacceptable to the wide political spectrum in Israel? Or does he declare the whole trip a grand success and go on his way? All of the grand talk and gestures are not simply useless. They convey to our friends and enemies that the administration does not think more than one move ahead, over-values the president’s personal charisma, and is so stymied by the real issues (e.g. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms) that it must spend its time excoriating its one true ally in the region. It is an embarrassingly naive episode which, I am sure, will not go unnoticed by foes and allies alike.



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