by Barry Rubin
It's always a pleasure to arrive in a place, scrutinize the situation carefully, and conclude that your analysis has been right. And it's also a good time to be taking a close-up look at U.S. Middle East policy.
Before talking about the next stage, let's briefly review our story to date, since Barack Obama became
our story to date
Step 1: Obama and his administration think that his charm and the fact that he isn't George W. Bush will help quickly change the
Step 2: Order
Step 3: Faced with Israeli resistance, Obama then tried to get both sides to do something along the lines of giving
And now for something partly, but not completely, different
There is a dawning realization that things are not quite happening as many of Obama's advisors have prophesized. To some extent this means the need to listen to other advisors.
We are now entering a new phase, which will also fail but is better than its predecessors, the optimism offensive. Obama will proclaim—he's already started doing so—that his strategy has succeeded and that both
There is, however, now a slight tilt toward
I am more skeptical that this phase will have much impact. It is based on too little and comes at a time when cynicism is at a peak, even by the
The administration and many in
As I write this, a translation from MEMRI arrives on my computer, an Egyptian cleric speaking on al-Jazira about Obama's Cairo speech:
"All the people in the front row applauded him….don't know what for….He is killing your sons in Iraq, he is killing your Muslim mothers and sisters in Afghanistan, and he sent a ship loaded with weapons to the Jews, in order to replace the three million kg of weapons that they used against your brothers in Gaza for 23 days.
"You come and tell me we should recognize
Now this is not the way President Husni Mubarak or Jordanian King Abdallah speaks to Obama, but it is apparently not too different in tone from what the president heard when he visited the Saudi king. That meeting was—according to sources I believe—a real shock for him, the equivalent of when Dorothy said to Toto, "We're not in
At any rate, it is closer to the mainstream narrative in the Middle East—to use the current post-rational jargon—than people in
So the Arabs, no matter how polite the rulers are to the administration, or Palestinians won't buy the official optimism. Indeed, the Palestinians are moving in a more radical direction as the Fatah congress showed. (Incidentally, no one seemed to notice that there was no gratitude or praise for Obama at that meeting.)
As for Israelis, they follow events too closely and are too familiar with how things work in the region to buy the
What about domestically? Will the American people buy it? To some extent they will but I can foresee, for example, that in early 2010 the New York Times will be writing articles about Obama's brilliant success in the
Moreover, it is important to factor in the growing criticism of Obama within the
An element of good news is that the Obama-is-out-to-destroy-Israel talk will die down. We should remember, however, that if
Finally, and very importantly, little progress on Arab-Israeli issues will be accompanied by even less on
There is an important distinction between the Arab-Israel issue and the Iran-Syria issue, and not just its nuclear weapons' element. At this point, wishful thinking on the former will do little or no harm; wishful thinking on the latter is incredibly dangerous. The problem is not just the Iranian regime getting nuclear weapons but its spreading influence and power which could transform the regional power balance.
The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that there were no second acts in American lives. The Obama Administration is going to need an act two in its term or it may not have a term two.
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