Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Obama comments on Gaza

Israelis doing what they love to do
Up to now, President-elect Obama has been notably silent about the crisis in Gaza. He surely must be giving some thought to the matter, no? He's had plenty to say about the financial and economic crises that are now upon us, so what gives? Even the statement he made today was non-committal and vague.
I'm very concerned with the conflict taking place there, I'm monitoring the situation on a day to day basis. The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern to me. After January 20th I'm going to have plenty to say about the issue, and I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to be engaged effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East...
So on January 20th you'll be hearing directly from me on this issue. Until then, my job is to monitor the situation and put together the best possible national security team so we hit the ground running on national security issues. --President-elect Obama, January 6th, 2008
Hardly a definitive statement, eh? So why the reticence when it comes to this full-blown crisis?

Well, I have a couple thoughts...
  1. Foreign policy, more than economic or social policy, is the domain of the executive branch of government. Congress can advise or help to shape policy, but it is the president that sets the direction in matters of state. (How bitterly have we rued this truth in the era of Junior and the neo-conservatives?)

    While Obama can certainly lobby and pressure Congress to craft economic legislation before he occupies the Oval Office, he has no leverage when it comes to foreign policy until he is actually in the White House. Therefore, for him to make pronouncements before he can shape policy is to make himself vulnerable, politically, while gaining no advantage.
  2. As I pointed out in a previous post, for Obama to either condemn or support the Israelis or the Palestinians could escalate the violence. If Obama condemns Israel, the Israelis may choose to pull out the stops and start leveling whole city blocks in an attempt to achieve some deranged Likud-inspired goal before Junior leaves office. (Telling, isn't it, that Israel is perhaps the only country in the world where Bush is popular?)

    On the other hand, if Obama calls Israeli actions "justified," he alienates large swaths of the Muslim world and severely handicaps his ability to forge more positive relationships there.
At the risk of being labeled an Obama apologist, I'm encouraged by his vagueness. If Obama wanted to play it safe, Congressional leaders, in their typically cowardly manner, have shown the way. Check these quotes:
I think what the Israelis are doing is very important. I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away. They've got to come to their senses. --Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) on Meet the Press, January 4, 2009

Israel has the right to defend its citizens and territory, as it is doing. The current outbreak of violence is the result of Hamas’ decision to break the ceasefire agreement on December 19. The only way for the violence to end is for Hamas to stop its attacks on Israel immediately, honor the ceasefire agreement and work in good faith to establish a peaceful resolution.”--House Minority Leader John Boenher (R-OH), December 30, 2008
Note that these quotes are from the leaders of both the Democrats and Republicans. That's what you call "political cover." If Obama wanted to put the matter behind him, to end speculation about his position vis-a-vis the crisis, he could simply issue a statement saying "Israel has a right...blah, blah, blah."

Could silence indicate a break from the past?
That he hasn't done so already must make the ghouls at AIPAC just a tad nervous, methinks. Dare we to hope that Obama might really be considering an evenhanded approach to the Palestine conflict? Is it maybe possible that he might actually stand up to Israel? That he might rein in the rabid dogs like Netanyahu?

Given the power of the Israeli spin machine in the US media and halls of power, and the eschatological fervor with which meathead Evangelicals view the Jewish state, and the fading hopes that discredited neo-conservatives place in the concept of warlike Zionism, entertaining hope for a different approach might seem a fool's errand. But, until Obama commits his administration one way or the other, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Dan Binmore said...

He's quite clear why he's not saying much, he's not president until the 20th, at which point he will be the president and can say things as the president. The other part of the issue is that the only people who can really do much about the situation are the israelis and palestinians. Condemning violence as a response to terrorism (on both sides) is laughably hypocritical coming from the USA. Obama, like everyone in the area as well, is in a no-win situation until both sides make a well-intentioned effort for peace.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to foreign policy, the United States of American should speak with "one united voice", regardless of how, we, the citizens feel. I respect Obama's position in not commenting on the situation. As President-Elect he is limited to what he should say and do. He knows the world is outraged and when he comes to the podium, it will not be as President-Elect, rather President of the United States, whose words will represent the United States of America.

Ridwan said...

If the shoe was on the other foot and Hamas invaded Israel killing innocent civilians Obama would have a hell of a lot to say.

Obama is hardly quiet on matters economic in the US, is he now?

He also had a lot to say about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, did he not?

The fact that he is the president elect is not really the central issue in why he can't say anything substantive on what Israel is doing in Gaza.

Obama is Israel. No surprises anyway you slice his duplicitous politics.



Anonymous said...

This is one of those non-issues pushed forth by the press, because the press is more focused on creating a soap opera than on covering the issues. It's too basic. As Dan said above, Obama is not president, and it would be a mistake to say anything that might influence what the current administration can or cannot do. And I say that knowing that the current administration cannot do anything.