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Belmont Club

“This will poison everything”

November 20th, 2012 - 12:18 pm

Hillary is rushing to the Middle East to mediate the Gaza crisis, according to the NYT.  Everything is being readied for her close-up. “Foreign diplomats who were briefed on the outlines of a tentative agreement said it had been structured in stages — first, an announcement at approximately 10 p.m. local time (3 p.m. E.S.T.) of a cease-fire, followed by its implementation at midnight, for 48 hours. That would allow time for Mrs. Clinton to arrive, and to create a window for negotiators to agree on conditions for a longer-term cessation of hostilities.”

But she can’t talk to Hamas. Even if she could it is uncertain whether they would listen.

Whether Hamas can enforce control over all of the militant Palestinian factions in Gaza to hold their fire during that period remained unclear. …

Mrs. Clinton will not meet with Hamas representatives on her trip, but with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, which is at odds with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip. “We do not engage directly with Hamas,” Mr. Rhodes said. Instead, Mr. Obama is focused on leveraging Egypt’s influence with Hamas to press for a halt to the rocket attacks. “We believe Egypt can and should be a partner in achieving that outcome,” Mr. Rhodes said.

However the damage has already been done to the narrative. According to the LA Times the conflict has derailed Obama’s hopes for the ‘Arab Spring’. “We will be put in the same corner as Israel,” said Kurtzer, now with Princeton University. “This will be an extremely awkward position.”  It’s almost as if the administration which was ‘unconditionally’ supportive of Israel didn’t want to be.

In a region thrown into turmoil by the “Arab Spring” uprisings, U.S. support for Israel and its right to defend itself has been one of the few constants. That has not changed, despite the well-publicized rocky relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But by all accounts, the damage to U.S. influence in the region is likely to grow if Israel sends ground troops into Gaza to stop the Hamas militant group from firing rockets into Israel.

“The bottom line is that this will poison everything the United States is trying to do in the region,” said Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar. …

Washington has struggled to regain its influence in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 brought to power populist Islamist governments that are more wary of Washington and more responsive to pro-Palestinian public opinion.

In the last week, U.S. diplomats have implored Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. They want to steer Morsi away from taking sides in the conflict and putting at risk the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which Washington views as a linchpin of peace and America’s strategic role in the region. Administration officials have praised Morsi for his efforts and his seeming eagerness to maintain the Camp David treaty …

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, said the crisis appeared close to a tipping point. If Israel sends armored columns into Gaza, Washington would be caught between pressing Israel to stop a conflict that has Obama’s support, or being seen in the Arab world as complicit in the bloodshed.

At last the truth has been blurted out: the ‘Arab Spring’ has damaged Obama’s influence not enhanced it. “Washington has struggled to regain its influence in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 brought to power populist Islamist governments that are more wary of Washington and more responsive to pro-Palestinian public opinion.” This is contrary to the narrative peddled by the administration itself. That Obama led the ‘Arab Spring’, albeit from behind; that he led the drive against Khadaffy. That Morsi was his partner for peace.

Now this! A small, insignificant group like Hamas has been allowed not only to disrupt life for millions in Israel it has single-handedly “poisoned everything” by forcing Israel to react.

As the post The Last Turn of the Vise argued, Obama has at last been forced to choose between two contradictory policies: “he can no longer have it both ways”.  He can no longer express support for Israel and those bent on its destruction despite the best efforts of the US media without people noticing the contradiction.

But he can still say one thing in public and another in private. As the LA Times noted that while Obama expressed ‘unconditional support’ for Israel, “Obama said at a news conference Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand, that it was preferable for Israel to avoid sending troops into Gaza, for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis.” He is basically advocating a ground sanctuary for a group that his own administration cannot meet with because it is a declared terrorist organization.

Perhaps the reason Hillary is being sent to broker the ‘ceasefire’ is so in case things go bad Obama can let her hold the bag and disculpate himself from the fiasco. He can stand above the fray. But even if the ceasefire holds it will not have solved the fundamental problem at the heart of Obama’s policy. He’s promised the same vig to two different debt collectors and only has enough money for one.

The Gaza crisis has brought to the surface the underlying crisis in the administration’s Middle Eastern policy. In the conflicts between the Iran and the Sunni countries and the Muslims versus Israel you cannot be all things to all men. You cannot flash two green lights at the same intersection. You cannot flash a public green light and private red light simultaneously. You cannot ‘lead from behind’ and ‘lead from the front’. You cannot lie in public and lie private, as the administration has done in Bengahazi, Fast and Furious and on a whole host of other issues.

Sooner or later things catch up with you. And that time is now.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

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No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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