President Obama’s speech could have been worse. But it wasn’t very good. “There had better be part 2,” says Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. For those looking for an echo of the Bush freedom agenda there were plenty of moments for “I told you so” with language like this:
We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
But there was also the implicit slur of the Bush administration whose Freedom Agenda he was parrotting. “As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by force — no matter how well-intended it may be.” In other words, good try there, Mr. Bush. No mention made of the liberation of 40 million Iraqis or that the Freedom Agenda began under his predecessor. As always, the world begins anew with Obama, and specifically with his Cairo speech.
As for the Arab Spring, Obama’sspinners engaged in some false advertising. In a conference call yesterday, they suggested aid would be linked to reform and pro-Western behavior. Obama certainly indicated his preference for reform (“Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future — particularly young people.”) But the cash will flow immediately:
First, we have asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G-8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. . . .Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. . . . Third, we are working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. . . .Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa.
Is Egypt a democracy yet? As Schanzer put it, the interim government has not “earned a cent” so far.
Then there was a rather horrid section on Iran. Unbelievably, Obama did not mention the U.S. determination to thwart Iran’s nuclear program:
Thus far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. This speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stands for the rights of protesters abroad, yet suppresses its people at home. Let us remember that the first peaceful protests were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.
Our opposition to Iran’s intolerance – as well as its illicit nuclear program, and its sponsorship of terror – is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today. That is true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain.
So it’s well known we oppose the nuclear program, but are we going to do anything about it? Apparently all Obama can do is reminisce: “echo chants” of the revolution he did nothing to support. The mullahs must be dancing in Tehran.
As for Syria, his formulation was ludicrous. Bashar al-Assad, whom we just sanctioned, needs to “start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad.” Still, the Obama team clings to the myth that Assad could lead the change. Assad is no doubt high-fiving his generals right now.
But it was the Israel-Palestinian section of the speech that was most alarming. First of all, as a pro-Israeli activist told me, “We were told it was going to be 99 percent Arab Spring and 1 percent Israel. It wasn’t. And he linked the two.” The list of the concerns are long.
1) Obama stated it was U.S. policy that the final agreement would be 1967 borders with land swaps. In the past the parties were already negotiating and Israel had offered this. Now it is a precondition to further talks. And it follows repeated statements by the prime minister that the 1967 borders are a non-starter.
2) The president rewards bad behavior by serving up a border plan just after the Hamas-Fatah unity government and in the same week that Mahmoud Abbas essentially declared perpetual war against Israel. On the positive side he did talk about a demilitarized Palestinian state.
3) The talk about a Palestinian border with Jordan comes out of left field. Where is the recognition of Israel’s ongoing security needs in the Jordan Valley?
4) Obama issued a fine rebuke to unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Absent, however, was what he is going to do about it.
5) Worst of all was this: “In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.” It is actually not just a profound question for Israel, it is an absolute bar to negotiation. And it is a legal problem for the United States. Are we going to fund the Hamas-Fatah entity?
6) Obama still clings to the formulation that Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu must make a “bold move.” Why him? Has Israel not offered again and again a Palestinian state? It is almost ludicrous — the thief breaks into the house, we chide him and turn to the homeowner, “So what are you going to do for this guy?”
If this is Obama’s idea of making up with Israel and the Jewish community, he is truly out to lunch. Bibi has already rejected the 1967 border notion (didn’t Obama know he would?). The prime minister’s office put out this:
“Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state...cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state,” said the office via Twitter. . “That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel. Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace. Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.”
It seems that Israel expected an embrace of the April 14, 2004, letters between Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush.
Obama had better scurry to clean up this mess and offer clarification at the meeting with Bibi tomorrow. Otherwise, he is going to walk into a room on Sunday with 10,000 very worried Jews wondering why he can’t ever seem to get it right.
UPDATE (4:54 p.m.): Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy provides some context on the 1967 borders:
The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” the U.S. president said, referring to what are official known as the 1949 Armistice lines, “so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
That’s one step further the position outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, when she called for such an outcome to be the product of negotiations: “We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”