Monday, December 5, 2011

Obama’s Middle East Policy: A Unified Field Theory

This is my ultimate attempt to provide a comprehensive but brief view explaining three years of Obama Middle East policy

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By Barry Rubin
In the history of physics, the “unified field theory” was an attempt to bring together an understanding of all forms of energy in a single explanation. Albert Einstein tried and failed to discover this. I don’t know much about physics but I know about Middle East policy.
So here’s an effort to bring together all of Obama’s regional policy into a single analysis and explaining everything in 1100 words.
The first point  is that the Obama Administration’s behavior  must be divided into two phases. They overlap and feature the same kind of thinking but they are also quite separate.

Phase One, from January 2009 until December 2010 was characterized by an emphasis on Israel-Palestinian peacemaking.  Obama’s Administration believed that it was possible to make rapid progress toward peace and also thought that this was essential to achieve anything else in the Middle East.

To achieve peace, they thought, required mainly putting pressure on Israel for more concessions and winning support from Arab states and Muslims by proving that the United States was more sympathetic to them than any previous presidency.

I don’t want to review all of the details but this included being more critical of Israel, lavishly flattering Arabs and Muslims, asking Arab states for help, demanding a building freeze on Israeli settlements, adding a construction stop in east Jerusalem to these demands, calling for a December 2009 Camp David summit, urging a return to the 1967 borders with minor changes,  and other steps.

There were many subtle barbs here at Israel that pro-Obama and many anti-Obama writers missed. For example, the Obama Administration at first reneged on its predecessor’s promise that Israel could keep West Bank “settlement blocs.” The Obama Administration secretly agreed not to ask for a freeze in east Jerusalem and then broke that promise by publicly attacking Israel on that point. The real problem with the “1967 borders” stance was that the Obama called for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders only after which there would be negotiations to determine what changes, if any, would be made.

There are two key points to make here. The first is that U.S. policy was a total failure, something the Administration admitted. The second was that the failure came due to Arab state refusal to help and Palestinian Authority total rejectionism. The Administration has never admitted, perhaps not really understood, this factor....

Phase Two:   Of course, the basic ideas that would characterize Phase Two were visible from the beginning of the Obama Administration.  Yet here, too, the most important points were often missed.... 

In brief, the Obama Administration encourages and supports the coming to power of fanatically anti-Israel groups, then have the nerve to say Israel is becoming isolated because it isn't making enough concessions! They encourage and support the rise of regimes that are totally against any peace with Israel or any two-state solution, then have the nerve to say that Israel can defuse the situation by making peace....

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