Obama Is Treading Water
Never mind the brilliant Nobel Peace Prize rhetoric and talk of a “just war,” Barack Obama is a president trying to please too many people at once. This could spell disaster in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
But the Middle East peace talks have essentially ground to a halt since Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Jerusalem at the end of October and inexplicably announced that a halt on settlement construction in the West Bank was not a pre-condition for resuming talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian leadership felt so betrayed that pro-American Fatah leader Abu Mazen announced that he will resign as leader of the Palestinian Authority. Mitchell has not been to the region in over a month and is not expected to return until January. "At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards,” Obama himself noted in the Nobel Lecture. “We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden.”
Many argue now that the Palestinians are too fraught with internal friction to guarantee any deal. But the administration is not making clear to either Israelis or Palestinians as to the parameters of how their long-term interests could be protected. The result is an increasing sense of futility. “Failure usually means a return to violence and resistance and maybe now a massive popular civil uprising,” Gershorn Baskin, of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information said in an interview with The Root. The fading peace between Israel and Palestine has generated suspicion that Obama’s Cairo speech was only talk.
Negotiations with Iran have been no less discouraging. ln October, the United States, France and Russia proposed a U.N.-drafted deal to Tehran regarding its nuclear program, in an effort to find a compromise between Iran's stated need for a nuclear reactor and international concerns that Iran may develop an atomic weapon. The draft plan required Iran to send about 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium to Russia by the year's end for processing. Subsequently, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods for use in a reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes.
On October 29, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced an openness toward cooperation. "We welcome fuel exchange, nuclear co-operation, building of power plants and reactors, and we are ready to co-operate," he said on state television. A month later, however, Iran not only has yet to sign a deal but has threatened to build 10 more enrichment facilities. “Iran has invested so many resources in its nuclear program that it won’t give up now,” a senior U.N. diplomat familiar with the negotiations said in an interview with The Root. “It’s one of the few things that everyone, including the opposition, agrees on and so far their strategy is working.”
Obama’s presidency has created tremendous expectations that a new approach to diplomacy will bear fruit in the Middle East and elsewhere. But real change in these difficult parts of the world will require tenacity and political courage. The longer President Obama treads water, the weaker he will become.
Greg Beals is a political analyst based out of the Middle East. He has worked for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and for the U.N. Security Council Somalia Monitoring Group. You can contact him here.