Free Markets, Free People
So what’s on the Middle Eastern agenda for the Obama administration?
Frankly that’s the question being asked by a lot of foreign policy watchers right now, especially since President Obama has added Saudi Arabia to his trip itinerary for an upcoming trip to the area. Originally scheduled to first make a stop in Cairo for a speech, he is now stopping in SA first. This, of course, has the Egyptians a bit miffed. Egypt was touting his trip and speech to Cairo as a sort of vindication of their foreign policy as well as their resurgent leadership role among Arabs in the area. Now that’s not quite as easy to claim.
One group sees it as tied closely to the Israeli-Palestinian track, focusing on the Arab Peace Initiative and the coming unveiling of the Obama approach to Israeli-Arab relations. Another sees it as tied more closely to Iran, preparing the Saudis for the coming engagement (or confrontation) with Tehran.
I happen to think it is a little bit of both, but mostly tied to Iran. NoKo has popped a nuke (and we’re aware of the ties between Pyongyang and Tehran). Iran has fired a long range missile. Intelligence says Venezuela and Bolivia are providing Iran with uranium (which both deny). That requires a bit of a change in focus of the mission from one exclusively focused on Israel/Palestine. Iran has heated up and the Arabs are not friends of Iran, certainly feel threatened by them and darn sure don’t want to see Iran establish itself as a regional (and nuclear) power. SA would be a logical stop for discussions on that issue.
As to the Israel/Palestine question, Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine wonders:
… will he reinforce or challenge the “moderates vs resistance” frame which he inherited from the Bush administration? The Arab leaders he has been meeting, like the Israelis, are perfectly comfortable with that approach, dividing the region between Israel and Arab “moderates” vs Iran and Arab “resistance” groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. That’s the easy path. If followed it is likely to fail badly, destroy the hopes for change which his engagement policy has raised, and leave the region right back where Bush left it.
I think there is no question he plans to shake up the status quo. But how he chooses to broker “change” in the engagement policy, his change may face the same risk of abysmal failure other policies have produced. The Hill is reporting that Obama plans on challenging Israel’s plan to continue to allow West bank settlements to grow.
“Each party has obligations under the road map,” Obama said after referencing his meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama said he has been “very clear” on the need to stop settlement and outpost activity, and he also said Israel has obligations to ensure a viable Palestinian state emerges from the peace process.
Israel has rejected that portion concerning the settlements on the West Bank. That rejection came after the Netanyahu/Obama meeting in Washington DC.
Netanyahu has set out the Israeli negotiating position:
“The government of Israel under my leadership is committed to the political and international agreements signed by the governments of Israel, and we expect others to honor their commitments as well,” Netanyahu told the Knesset. “We want an end to the conflict, and we want reciprocity in the claims on both sides and their implementation. Unfortunately, in this we are also being innovative. We should not have to innovate; it should have been obvious. However, when we are asked to recognize our international commitments, I say yes, and I want others to respect their commitments as well.
“We are prepared to act, and we will take concrete steps towards peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu continued. “We also expect the Palestinians to take such concrete steps on their side, and it would be good if the Arab countries joined in the effort towards peace, and take both concrete and symbolic steps towards normalization, and not later, but right now. They are asking us to act now, and so the Palestinians and the Arab countries should also be asked to act now.”
Or shorter Israeli stance – if we’re required to live up to international commitments, the same demand must be made of (and accepted by, and acted upon) by others included in these negotiations.
Right now, one of the major obstacles to any such negotiations is not with the Israelis, but among Palestinians:
The Palestinian Authority faces its own challenges in brokering a peace deal, namely the split between Hamas and Fatah — and, therefore, between Gaza and the West Bank — that essentially renders a two-state solution a three-state solution. Since the violent splinter between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, the U.S. has dealt only with Abbas.
So does the US change its policy and actively enter into negotiations with a terrorist group in hope of brokering a reconciliation? The chances of such a reconciliation seem remote. And of course, the splintering within the Palestinians makes the talk of a “two-state solution” an exercise in unachievable rhetoric for the time being. Why should Israel enter into serious negotiations about such a solution when they are unachievable as it stands today?
This will be an interesting trip to monitor.
More to come.
Edit: Changed Ecuador to Bolivia – thanks for the catch, looker.
What is going on with the Charles Freeman nomination, and is it an indicator of a overwhelmed administration losing control? Who, exactly, is in charge there?
Frankly, approaching 45 days into this administration, the transition process, at least as it pertains to critical nominations, has been an unmitigated disaster. But it is the Freeman nomination which begs the question “who is in charge”. Charles Freeman has been nominated for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the organization in charge of preparing our most sensitive intelligence estimates.
Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair apparently never ran the nomination by the White House. That means Freeman has never been formally vetted. Now this may all fall back on Blair, but you have to wonder what sort of guidance or lack thereof provided him with the belief that this was the way things worked?
More importantly, why did Blair decide Freeman was the man for the job? A former ambassador under George H. W. Bush, to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, Freeman is seen by many as having very serious conflicts of interest which were apparently ignored. Freeman was also a board member the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) owned in majority by the Chinese government and other Chinese government agencies. And there are other financial ties which are suspect. Freeman is president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. You can read about the ramifications of those connections here.
But its not just who Freeman has been connected with, but some of the statements he’s made that make one wonder about his objectivity and, frankly, his moral and ideological foundation. This is a person who remarked that the Chinese government had shown too much “restraint” when putting down the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, he advocated the use of a national identity card. After all the wide-spread panic from the left concerning the Bush years and the claim that he was leading us down the path to totalitarianism, this seems like the type of person the left would really find unacceptable for a position.
Then there is the Congressional side of the question. Jennifer Rubin asks:
Does Diane Feinstein think Freeman is an acceptable pick? It is interesting to note how lacking in — what’s the word? ah yes — “oversight” the government is now that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Imagine if George W. Bush had nominated someone whose earnings depended on the largess of the House of Saud or who advocated crushing Chinese dissidents — indeed faster than the Chinese government.
And she further asks, is this the type of person who will give the administration “the “unpoliticized” advice they are looking for?”
Given what we know, I’d say no. However, this nomination is just one more in what can only be characerized as a shambles – Commerce, HHS, Treasury, questions about his housing czar and nominees for other Treasury posts jumping ship – that is the nomination process.
This points to a very inexperienced administration learning on the job in one of the more turbulent times in our history. That is not a good thing, folks, but exactly what was predicted given his lack of a resume. We’ve now seen the result of a campaign based on vacuous slogans. A campaign that was part demonization of the opposition and part beauty pageant. A campaign in which few focused on what the responsibilities of the office entailed and whether the candidate had the qualifications to fulfill them. We’re now “enjoying” what that brings.
UPDATE: Politico reports that Charles Freeman has withdrawn his nomination. Heh … that’s the fastest reaction I’ve ever had to one of my posts.