Monday, January 05, 2009

Silence Is Golden?

Maybe. And maybe not:

"If I were Obama, I wouldn't want to talk about it either. Frankly, it's a lot more comfortable to let this one hang on the president," said Edward Walker Jr., who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1997 to 1999.

"I don't think he wants to be tagged at this point with either advocating the Israeli response or condemning it because our (U.S.) interests are sort of torn on this one," added Walker, an analyst with the Middle East Institute think tank.

Pro-Israeli comments by Obama risk upsetting the Arab world even before he takes office. Comments that seem critical of Israel would anger its American supporters.

Rock, meet hard place. It's not that Obama doesn't care about what's going on in the region, or that he doesn't have an opinion. Indeed, he's voiced foreign policy opinions before this (specifically on the Mumbai attacks) but these have hardly been statements of ongoing policy or binding opinions. In Israel, he would be held accountable after he takes office. Silence seems to be golden.
Presumably, the uptick in violence in the Gaza region is deliberate. Israelis and Palestinians both have a reason to test Obama's foreign policy from day one, given the crazy rumours that abounded when Obama was a candidate: Obama is secretly Muslim, will take the oath on the Koran, that sort of stuff.
You see, the problem with the Big Lie (via Goebbels) is that someone will believe it, no matter how insane the rumour is, and usually that someone is insane enough to take innocent people with him. In a situation as incendiary as Israel and Palestine, it only takes one crackpot to set off the entire region. Ask Ariel Sharon.
Right now, on this issue as on so many issues that Obama is faced with, his demeanor must be that of the horseshoe crab: apparent immobility from above, but if you flip one over the feet are scurrying like mad. My guess is Obama has people in the Middle East on fact-finding missions to try to determine the extent of the problem and that he is receiving the same daily briefings that Commanderguy is getting.
Which leads to silence NOT being golden. I also get the sense, given Obama's desire to hit the ground running, that he has people not only finding fact, but expressing reassurances and leaving impressions of precisely what he plans to do. I would not want to start my Presidency with this hanging over my head and have to play catch up with the Israeli and Palestinian governments, such as it is.
One can only guess at what Obama's thoughts are, and he's been shrewd to show his hand only to those who really need to see it.
Personally, my solution would probably be as simple as the following: Reassure Israel that America stands ready to defend her interests, however, make it perfectly clear that readiness is predicated on Israel finding the strength within her to begin negotiations in earnest with the Palestinians and other antagonistic parties. I would suggest this was precisely the stance that Bill Clinton took and he came as close to finding peace in the Middle East as any president.
You see, it's been decades since American interests were aligned completely with Israeli interests. Indeed, the OPEC embargoes of 1973 and 1979 were in large part retaliations against America for her support of Israel. The Arabic world couldn't beat Israel on the field of battle, so the battle was bought into the oilfields.
That America resisted the urge to jump ship and take our economic interests with us has never really been properly appreciated by Israel or her champions here in America, I think. Nonetheless, as it turns out, support for Israel has other facets to it, from a strategic point of view, that make having Israel a firm ally important. One very important reason is stability. Imagine if we had jumped ship and sided with Egypt under Nasser, or Syria. Or Iran. Or Iraq, for that matter.
The violence must stop. The slaughters on both sides of civilians must end. Now. One can only hope that Barack Obama will be the President to do just this.