Tomorrow, the president will give a speech at the State Department on the Middle East. There’s much speculation about what he will say. His obsessive focus on the Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” has been a total failure. The Palestinian Authority is now in league with a terrorist organization. Iran’s nuclear program may have been temporarily set back, but the mullahs’ ambitions to possess nuclear weapons have not been halted. Our behavior during the Arab Spring has ranged from total paralysis to half-measures. Moammar Gaddafi remains in power. There is a lot President Obama could talk about.
The speculation is that the “peace process” will be a minor part of the speech. If the president has figured out that this is not the tail that wags the entire Middle East, that is progress. But it would be equally misguided for him to ignore the unity government, Mahmoud Abbas’s renunciation of all past agreements and the effort to obtain unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. In this case, silence and passivity translates into acceptance of all three. Unless he is unequivocal in his denunciation of all three, the strains with Israel will be exacerbated and there will be no hope of restraining the Europeans from giving a thumbs up to a Hamas-Fatah government.
The president, in addition to the dangerous and counterproductive turn by the PA, would do well to focus on three things. First, our failure to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure has become a moral and political liability. Our credibility as a pro-freedom and pro-reform advocate throughout the Middle East is destroyed if we do not take even this minimal rhetorical step with regard to one of the most despotic regimes on the planet.
Second, Obama needs to lay out an approach to Egypt and to the other countries affected by the Arab Spring. What are our expectations and what are we willing to do to encourage secular, pro-freedom elements and discourage jihadist, anti-Western forces? So far we have no Arab Spring policy. We need one, and not the unhelpful and inaccurate recitation that there is no single approach for the region. Yes, each nation is different, but the commonalities (e.g. democracy-building, the Muslim Brotherhood, the opening for Iran) require a coherent policy that our allies and foes alike can comprehend.
And finally, Iran shouldn’t be forgotten. The administration has lost focus (if it ever had any) and has all but abandoned any credible threat of force if other measures fail to abate Iran’s nuclear weaponization program. Iran is not isolated; its influence is growing. The president, unless he is throwing in the the towel on halting Iran’s nuclear program (which will, on the eve of his meeting with the Israeli prime minister, tell Bibi Netanyahu that Israel will need to act unilaterally), would do well to forcefully restate his own policy of determination to thwart an Iranian nuclear weapons program, spell out our intention to use military force if necessary, and embrace the congressional proposals for additional sanctions. Again, silence or hesitation on these points will send an unmistakable signal to Iran, Israel, the entire Middle East and our allies around the globe. In short, is the president who wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons going to preside over the decimation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty architecture and the elevation of a revolutionary jihadist state to membership in the nuclear club?
The real challenge for Obama is whether he can build on the assassination of Osama bin Laden to confront the scourge of radicalism in the Middle East, to reestablish our influence in the region and to preserve the one enduring alliance, that with the Jewish state. I for one fervently hope he can.