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Obama on the Middle East – Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing.

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Among Thespians quoting Macbeth is seen as tempting the fates, but I hope they hold off from bringing me bad luck, because there really is no better way of describing the quintessential Obama than to borrow from the Bard.

Obama clearly loves the idea of being an orator. He stands at the podium, poised, easy, modulated, with a careful cadence to match his apparently oracular wisdom. There really is nobody around that’s better than Barack at looking the part. But it’s a con job. He seems so good at soaring rhetoric, he fools most of us that he is actually that good.

He isn’t.

His speeches are grab bags of ideas guaranteed to address every angle of every situation, the pros the cons, the acceptable, and even, flirtingly, the unacceptable. They please everyone and no-one, are both bold and conservative. And the result is that when the speeches are all added up, nobody really knows what the man has said, and thus begins the – to quote one pundit’s apt response to the recent Middle East speech – talmudic parsing of every word.

In the current round of tea-leaf sorting that’s going on over Obama’s State Department speech, many people are under the mistaken impression that he signalled a sea-change in US Middle Eastern policy, drawing together the strands of US policy up until now haphazardly expressed in the so-called “Arab Spring”.  It’s not true. Nothing has changed about US policy. It’s still the same as it was in Condi Rice’s State Department, an unseemly, and ill-coordinated compote of neo-conservative wishful thinking on the one hand, with Bismarckian realpolitik on the other. And with these two being essentially exclusive in concept, and message, we’re in the same old hot mess we’ve been in for a decade.

Even putting aside the screaming insincerity of the differing US responses to the situations in Libya and Syria, to name one compartive example, The US response to the “Arab Spring” has been nothing less than shameful and hypocritical. In such a fluid situation – with so many dark counter-reactions possible in each of these flashpoints, dare one say, likely, the best possible policy for the US would be to take a wait and see attitude. But instead we blunder into fuller commitments to rebels and revolutionaries, of whom we know little, just because they say the right thing right now. ‘Democracy’ (or at least the brief appearance of it) is no closer to the Arab experience than it ever was. But what has changed is that the cohesion of repressive states has given way to the ‘decolonialization’ of the Arab world, into its factional, sectional, feudal, clannish and sectarian underpinnings.

American stock is so low on the ground in the “Arab world” there was no point speaking openly of a policy we can’t possibly uphold.  We should have kept quiet, while we work diplomacy behind the scenes.

But Obama is a talker. He loves the sound of his own voice.

And as for the so-called line in the sand that Obama has drawn in refining the US stance on Israel, it only reflects poorly on us. Netanyahu’s plucky rebuke of the President in the Oval Office made POTUS look chastened and now after his AIPAC reaffirmation, wilful. This is not great statecraft. And to make matters worse he said – well you’ve guessed it – little of note, so he’s getting little bang for his buck. Basing the final settlement of the Palestinian issue on the pre-’67 borders – with ‘landswaps’ really adds nothing to the discussion. Israelis hate the implication that East Jerusalem has to be handed over. Palestinians hate the land-swaps and suggestion of de-militarization of a future state.

Not only that, but nannying the new Palestine is a recipe for disaster. It excuses them when they attempt to abrogate Israeli sovereignty. Their response can easily be. “We were prevented from defending ourselves”. Better to let them run with the big dogs and ‘be responsible’.

It would have been wiser to avoid the temptation that all US Presidents fall into, of trying to publicly ‘do something’ about the Palestinian situation. Indeed we expect better of the professorial Obama. In this case, going public is utterly counter-productive.  But if Barack is nothing else, as he’s proved time and time again, the President is Mr. “Sound and Fury”, playing orator like kids play office.

I would challenge anyone to suggest that Obama’s speech was meaningful in any serious way.  It wasn’t decisive, it wasn’t profound, and it wasn’t easy to understand.  In short, it was a political failure, sewing more simmering problems, and adding to existing confusion. It will be forgotten, like all his other speeches, classic monuments to an excellent oratorical manner along with not much else.


Written by coolrebel

May 22, 2011 at 7:43 am

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