Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My first post criticizing Obama (no kidding)

Disclaimer first:

As I maintained he would in a number of posts during the campaign, I still think Obama’s turning out to be a darn good president in general. And I still think he’ll be a great friend to Israel. But as I indicated in this post, he’s not above criticism. However, the below criticism is in the same vein as those right-wingers who thought GW Bush was Israel’s best friend but criticized him during his second term for publicly supporting a two-state solution. Obama’s still my man. Now on to the criticism.

Obama left today for a trip to the Middle East. He’s trying to repair ties with the Arab world, and the greater Muslim world, which Bush shredded during his two terms. He’s going to speak from Cairo, a symbolic move to indicate that the Arab & Muslim states do not need to have an antagonistic relationship with the US and the US is willing to listen to what they have to say.

Fine, I support that. Even seen from a Israel-centric standpoint, Bush’s “us” and “them” cowboy diplomacy didn’t exactly help Israel, it only made her more hated, if that were possible. And with the threat of Iran, Israel needs friends in the region, or at least what passes for friendship around there, grudging cordiality and willingness to cooperate on some things, even if only through US mediation. So basically, Israel needs the US to have good relations with Arab countries. That’s the only way anything has ever been solved around there, and it increases Israel’s security.

So Obama is bending over backwards to show the United States’ good intentions to the Arab countries. But in a bizarre move, he’s decided not to stop in Israel during this trip. Now, I’m not one of those Jews who craves a visit to Israel by the US president for some sort of validation. But to go to the Middle East & not stop in Israel, a close ally, is a slap in the face, given the precedent of almost all previous presidents. I get that he’s staying away from Israel to make a point to underscore his overture to the Arab world and avoid undercutting his message of evenhanded friendship. But then, I would understand Obama stopping only in Egypt, making his speech & going back to the US.

But that’s not what he’s doing. Instead, he stopped in Saudi Arabia for a day first. If his trip is so carefully orchestrated to avoid insulting the Arab world by avoiding Israel, you’d think he would also carefully orchestrate NOT stopping in Saudi Arabia and lavishing praise on the country’s dictators, as he did, to avoid insulting Israel. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t stop in Riyadh solely to insult Israel. The news media reports that the trip to SA was a last minute add-on. But he and his advisors should have realized how that would look. If he’s already tooling around the region, going to more than one country, it’s an insult to ignore Israel.

And why do I have the feeling that a stop in Israel more likely would have been on the agenda if Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni had formed the government instead of Netanyahu? Or even if Netanyahu had formed a broad coalition with Kadima & Labor instead of with right-wing and religious fringe nuts? I’m no supporter of Netanyahu and his coalition, but it strikes me that if Obama can meet with and lavish praise on the Saudi royal family, who have, like most Arab “moderates”, made hateful and false statements about Israel, and at least indirectly supported terrorism, he could swallow meeting with Netanyahu, who is the Dalai Lama in comparison, in Jerusalem.

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