Bill Clinton is the most popular politician in America today! (Did you miss that story?) Yes, former President Clinton enjoys a higher approval rating than President Obama, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, or Scott Brown. I find that poll fascinating because I was a Clintonite- I voted for him in 1996 in my first year as an eligible voter, and appreciated his push for Middle East peace in 1999 and 2000. Putting aside the Lewinsky scandal, the selling out of American labor with the NAFTA agreement, and his failed attempt at healthcare reform, the good things he did as president, in addition to the work he has done since leaving office, has left me, and most Americans, with a favorable opinion of him.
Perhaps more than anything else, I will never forget the amount of personal investment he had with in the peace process; he firmly believed he could bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians. After witnessing both the Oslo Accords in 1992 and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty the following year, Mr. Clinton wanted to build on that momentum through engagement with the Syrians and with the Palestinians. The diplomacy of the late 1990s and the Clinton administration has been thoroughly documented, in particular in Dennis Ross’s book, The Missing Peace, and in numerous other books and DVDs.
One vignette from this era of attempted peacemaking tells the entire story. At the negotiations between Israel and Syria in Geneva in the spring of 2000, there was a moment when the American negotiating team realized that the game was up and it was all for naught. Syrian President Assad had no intention of giving up his claim to the land on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and Prime Minister Ehud Barak had no intention of ceding that land back to Syria. Despite the Clinton administration’s goodwill and investment in bringing the two sides together, all the goodwill in the world wasn’t going to bridge the gap between the two sides. Two members of the negotiating team, Sandy Berger and Robert Malley, looked at each other, and Berger commented: “I’m afraid this is an historic meeting: a historic failure.”
Historic failure is now the term I am assigning to Mr. Obama’s policies on Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace. In his term in office, he has made misstep after misstep in moving either situation towards a peaceful conclusion. Mr. Obama, who came into office focused on rehabbing America’s image in the world, has in a short time embarrassed himself by his ineffectiveness in stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions, bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table, or isolating Mahmoud Ahmendinejad.
Now before you click away, you should know that I’m an Obama guy. I’m a Massachusetts Democrat. I even voted, reluctantly, for Martha Coakley. So I have no axe to grind with the Liberal agenda. But the time has come for honesty.
The enduring images from recent events? Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN in which he claimed the US perpetrated the 9/11 attacks to benefit Israel, and Mr. Obama’s naïve and foolhardy insistence, also at the UN, that Israel continue its moratorium on settlement construction, have exposed the American president for what he is: more like the orphan Oliver, begging at the table, and less like the leader of the Free World. Mr. Obama was perceived as completely powerless in both instances, and the sight of the US delegation meekly putting down their headsets and leaving Ahmadinejad’s speech for me was the epitome of a failed agenda. Consider just these three things:
1) Iran is as nuclear-ambitious as ever
2) Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open invitation to begin serious peace talks the Palestinians have gotten away with not showing up and not negotiating at all since Mr. Obama took office
3) Hamastan in Gaza and Hezballahstan in Southern Lebanon are as strong as ever and arming for a future conflict (just ask King Abdallah of Jordan)
Mr. Obama’s famous speech in Cairo, his grand gesture to the Arab World, his tough talk to Israel, his snubbing of Mr. Netanyahu earlier this year… all of this has bought him precious little capital with American Jews or Israelis. And, even more, it has not impacted his credibility in the Arab World, which is disappointed that he has not brought more pressure to bear on Israel, nor wrung additional concessions from them.
Unfortunately, Mr. Obama has fallen into an old Liberal trap— the thinking that through empathy, logic, cajoling, or reason, a smart person can win over the hearts and minds of someone who has a flawed world view. He told the crowd at his Cairo speech that “threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong”; I’m fairly certain that his persuasive words failed to sway any of Israel’s enemies that they should cut back on the anti-Israel propaganda or stop arming terrorists. Mr. Obama erroneously thought, for whatever reason, that he could get the Arab World to stop blaming Israel for everything instead of dealing with their own issues by showing them goodwill. He also thought he could convince Israel’s enemies to give up their hope that Israel will one day be destroyed.
It’s not usually wise for a liberal guy like me to go around channeling a Zionist extremist like Vladimir Jabotinsky, but this quote from his “The Iron Wall” essay 1923 still rings true, and it would do well for Mr. Obama to keep it in mind:
What is impossible is a voluntary agreement. As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up this hope in return for either kind words or for bread and butter, because they are not a rabble, but a living people. And when a living people yields in matters of such a vital character it is only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall. Not till then will they drop their extremist leaders whose watchword is “Never!” And the leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions. Then we may expect them to discuss honestly practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizen, or Arab national integrity.
Mr. Obama thought by engaging with the enemies of Israel and listening to them, they would somehow, for the first time ever, give up on their claims for Israel’s destruction, or their denial of the Holocaust. He was wrong.
Mr. Obama thought that by pressuring Israel he would get an extension on the settlement freeze. He was wrong.
Mr. Obama thought that he was going to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians by making the Arab World think he was being an honest arbiter and by equally blaming both sides. He was wrong. All that he has succeeding in doing is perpetuating the status quo.
Enough already, Mr. President.