This was no landmark speech. There was no seizing of opportunities created by the killing of bin Laden. It was stylishly written clichés. I’m amazed at how easily the domestic audience, domesticated as it is by the patronizing and infantile simplicities of television networks (whether Fox or CNN, delude yourself of a difference), bought into the narrative of the “groundbreaking,” or pumped up the hype. Even in print, where, unlike television, IQ is occasionally recognizable. “Obama’s Israel Bombshell,” was the Wall Street Journal’s four-column headline.
Bombshell, no. A bomb of a speech, yes.
Obama was still speaking as if the United States could make much of a difference in the region. But it’s not just al-Qaeda that’s become irrelevant. The events of the last few months have shown to what extent American influence has shrunk, and how compromised America’s moral standing continues to be. It’s not Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret prisons and the no-exit muddles of Iraq and Afghanistan so much anymore, though those blights continue to accrue interest in America’s bank of shame. These days it’s Obama’s refusal to see thuggery for what it is and deal with it on equal terms. He starts another war against Libya because that country’s mad man turned his tanks against his own people. But Bahrain’s and Syria’s mad men are doing the same, and all Obama can do is slap a few sanctions on Syria, after saying nothing for weeks of massacres, and keep hugging and kissing the Bahraini king, because America’s Fifth Fleet is anchored in his port, while the king’s murderous troops crush demonstrators and invite Saudi troops to boot.
Obama continues to be a flip-flopper on these Arab revolutions, which are losing their momentum. For weeks he couldn’t figure out how to respond to the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. He hedged his bets. He wanted to make sure that if the tyrants didn’t fall, he could still be friends with them. He aligned himself with the insurgents only when he was certain that the gangsters he’d called allies and friends all those years were done for good. That’s not courage. It’s keeping up with CNN.
Palestine-Israel and the 1967 Borders Canard
The big news Thursday was supposedly Obama’s endorsement of Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state. But all he’s doing is catching up to international law, to United Nations resolutions, to where the rest of the world has been, to where even several previous presidents were when American policy wasn’t a subset of whatever Israel was asking for. The only big news about those 1967 borders is that it took the United States so long to rediscover them, and the law.
Even then, Obama was all about hedging. A president who’s allegedly all for self-determination and human rights derided the Palestinians move toward declaring an independent state next September at the United Nations, much in the way that Israel declared itself a state in 1948. It took Harry Truman 20 minutes to recognize Israel back then. It’s been 63 years that the United States has joined Israel in denying Palestinians the right to exist. That hasn’t changed. Yet Israel still grouses, from its invulnerable and immovable existence, that Palestinians deny it the right to exist. Talk about illusion in the service of rhetoric.
In that sense (as in a few others, terrorizing Palestinians militarily, killing them arbitrarily and calling it collateral damage, and repressing them widely and illegally through occupation) Israel is worse than Hamas. Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist in words as idiotic as they are divorced from reality. That’s the mark of imbecilic fanaticism (forgive the oxymoron; the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, incidentally, explicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1993. But Israel denies not only Palestine’s right to exist in actual fact; it denies Palestinians the right to exist—in history, in culture, in textbooks, and of course in the most important state of them all: in a state of their own. Obama, like most of his predecessors, have been complicit in that denial, swallowing whole the disingenuous Israel’s rhetoric about its existence hinging in the least on what Hamas’s moronic charter says. That didn’t change in Thursday’s speech. It was instead emphasized with Obama’s obnoxious suggestion that September’s UN vote for Palestinian statehood would be counter-productive. That from a president fighting four wars in the Middle East—Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, “terror”—allegedly in the name of Arab and Afghan self-determination against those who’d deny it.
What Happened to Saudi Arabia?
But the square-peg-in-round-hole-hypocrisy of American presidents has no bounds in the Middle East. Arabs and Muslims briefly imagined Barack Obama to be different. He’s been an improvement. But improving from catastrophic to dismal isn’t much of an improvement. There was not a word about Saudi Arabia in Thursday’s speech, either, though Saudi Arabia, as close an ally as any in the Middle East, is in the same league of regressive tyrannies as the Taliban or North Korea—a sheikhdom as corrupt as they come, an illegitimate monarchy, an insult to women and an offense against liberty that the United States nevertheless embraces with strategic abandon.