It has enabled him to enjoy a vacation and a high public opinion poll on his leadership ability, or at least what the public projects it will be. But alas, it’s show time.
He’s in Washington now, he’s being tested by Arabs and Israelis for all the world to see, and he’ll be sworn in as president in a couple of weeks.
And the world will then start to discover what approach
Mr Obama will take towards the problems of Israel and Palestine, the
source of so much tension in the Middle East and beyond. Will he invest
the full powers of the presidency in the search for peace there, as
Bill Clinton did, in the end to little effect? Will he instinctively
shy away from the problem, as George Bush did, at any rate to begin
with? Or will he try for something wholly new, which might mean finding
creative ways to lessen the perception that America is first and
foremost a friend to Israel rather than a wholly dispassionate and
A number of big questions remain unanswered about Mr
Obama’s Middle Eastern intentions. It is not yet clear, for instance,
who will be the new main negotiators on the issue, although he is
currently being advised by a clutch of Clinton-era experts which does
not seem to presage much in the way of change.
That was the same reaction to some of his Cabinet picks, so the emphasis has shifted to ‘experience’ over ‘change’.
And take a look back at who those Clinton era experts were, as told by one of them, Martin Indyk, and recounted here.
Since the members of Mr Clinton’s peace team were Jewish
(Mr Indyk says one Arab journalist called them “the five rabbis”),
their neutrality is sometimes questioned. Mr Indyk himself, originally
an Australian, once worked for the chief Israeli lobby in America, the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, before becoming a diplomat
and serving twice as America’s ambassador to Israel. Yet he admits
mistakes and avoids blaming Arafat alone, confessing that the “dark
side” of the “innocent optimism” with which America tackled diplomacy
in the Middle East was a naivety bred of arrogance. The main impression
his book leaves is of the unforgiving complexity of this conflict, in a
region where many conflicts connect together, and where the interplay
of personality and politics can so often trip up history.
So, can anybody claim a fresh “innocent optimism” by the new Obama administration if the team he assembles is from this crew?
And, speaking of being tripped up by history, the Economist’s lead says it best:
IF ONLY men could learn from history.
Good line, that. But as Indyk admits, vision is always clearest in hindsight.
For if Barack Obama intends to make peace between Israel
and the Arabs, his first job is to understand why Mr Clinton, the last
president to make a real effort to do so, discovered that he could not.
With Mrs. Clinton heading the State Department, that hindsight may not be particularly clear.