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Debating the Middle East Debacle

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?


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