Think of the Palestinian Statehood Bid in the UN as a Hurricane; Think of U.S. Policy as New Orleans
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." --Rahm Emanuel
By Barry Rubin
One of the amazing things about the amazing incompetence of the Obama Administration is that we’ve become so accustomed to it that we take for granted things that would have made opinionmakers during past presidencies clutch the upper left side of their chests and collapse, writhing in agony.
Or to put it another way, if an Obama policy falls in the public arena and the mass media acts deaf will anyone say: “OMG! Can this really be happening?” Well, I will follow Rahm Emanuel’s advice and hope that this serious crisis could be for this administration an “opportunity…to do things you think you could not do before” or to start looking for a new policymaker.
Consider that the United States is on the verge of a foreign policy disaster that could easily have been averted by proper statecraft. The Palestinian Authority (PA, technically speaking, along with its Hamas partner) is about to demand that the United Nations break every Israel-Palestinian agreement over almost twenty years, destroy any possibility of serious future negotiation, reward Palestinian intransigence, and generally make a mess of the Middle East.
The specific issue is recognition of a Palestinian state as existing right now. The result, as I’ve outlined previously, would be catastrophic and don’t let anyone get away with pretending that this isn’t a bad thing or won’t make much difference.
A “normal” U.S. policy would have begun pressing the PA to back down from this strategy almost a year ago, when PA leaders began talking about it. Rather than take quick action—or, indeed, punish, pressure, or even criticize the PA for anything it did—the Obama Administration stood by and made disapproving murmurs from time to time.
We are now facing the consequences of the policy of: let’s be weak so people will like us; leading from behind; not rewarding friends or punishing enemies,; refusing to use U.S. leverage (Turkey votes against sanctions on Iran? Let’s put them in charge of Syria’s future!); and generally letting other countries walk all over the United States. I’d love to list other examples of similar issues here but don’t want to take your time so you can fill in the additional details.
Now, the cloud once the size of a man’s hand has turned into a more serious big brother of Hurricane Irene. If you don’t mind my mixing hurricanes, think of U.S. foreign policy as New Orleans.
A colleague suggests that the administration is now panicked. I think it isn't panicking but should be. A sign of not understanding the magnitude of the problem is that it is only now starting to do what should have begun around September 2010, not September 2011. If you are a U.S. citizen living in a Muslim-majority country you might think about what you will be doing later this month.
As a result, the United States has no leverage over the PA, a client that depends on Washington for any possibility of actual peace, having a real state, and paying its bills. Equally, it has no leverage over virtually any other country in the world in terms of voting on this issue. America has been transformed from superpower to super-cower, begging the PA to take pity on it and back down from an obviously successful strategy.
I love the way the New York Times' article puts it:
“The Obama administration has initiated a last-ditch diplomatic campaign to avert a confrontation this month over a plan by Palestinians recognition as a state at the United Nations. It may already be too late, according to senior American officials and foreign diplomats.”
Yes, it might also be too late—just maybe—to stop the American Civil War or prevent the 1929 stock market crash. What the Obama Administration has done is to:
--Propose a new round of PA talks with Israel.
--Made clear that it will veto the PA bid in the Security Council.
This is about the most serious threat since a small mammal (I don’t want to offend anyone by mentioning its precise species) told the Big Bad Wolf not to blow down its house of straw and eat him or he’d bleed all over the Wolf’s clothes.
First, the PA doesn’t want negotiations with Israel. It has been rejecting talks for two years, even refusing them during a requested Israeli freeze of construction on West Bank settlements, even when an east Jerusalem freeze was added to it. The PA also rejected talks within minutes after Obama laid his personal prestige on the line in September 2009 to announce a high-level summit at Camp David.
Let’s face it: these people don’t want serious negotiations. Why? Because they don’t want a peace agreement with Israel; they want a state unfettered by concessions or compromise so they can pursue total victory and Israel’s destruction. (There’s nothing “right-wing” about that conclusion. All the facts point to it and only wishful thinking says differently.)
As for the U.S. vetoing the proposal, what does the PA care about that? It will mainly hurt the United States. There will be a vote in the General Assembly with a margin of support for the PA (cowardly Western democracies which know the idea is terrible will abstain and let the United States take the heat) similar to the size of the majority in the U.S. Congress supporting a declaration endorsing Mother’s Day. Second, there will probably be anti-American riots throughout the Muslim-majority world. Any good done by Obama’s almost three-year-long effort to make Arab and Muslims like him will be cancelled out.
Fortunately, though, Obama doesn’t hold a grudge, at least against foreign enemies who “diss” him and America.
I know that I’ve tried to be entertaining here through the use of sarcasm and humor. But my warning and critique are not exaggerated. This was an avoidable crisis and will be much worse than almost anyone recognizes.
The non-EPA approved icing on the cake is that afterward the Obama Administration will do absolutely nothing to the PA or to affect negatively those who voted for it which will, of course, encourage additional acts of diplomatic hostility and real world disasters of this type. The Obama Administration’s apparent motto is expressed by wearing a large sign that says, “Kick me.” Unfortunately, the object being kicked isn’t the personal property of the chief executive but belongs to the United States of America.