A week after President Obama’s Middle East speech, it has become increasingly evident that although there was much talk, little will result. President Obama’s proposal to go back to 1967 borders, a day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, will have less to do with creating new borders and more to do with damaging old friendships. Ultimately, the United States made a proposal. Israel said, “No,” and Iran was victorious.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for “wiping Israel off the map,” pointed out on several occasions that instead of singling out Arab dictators or the Iranian government, President Obama should condemn the actions of Israel’s “Zionist regime” against the Palestinians. And so he did.
In his speech Thursday, President Obama put forth a new approach to facing turmoil in the Middle East. He promised economic relief and investment to Tunisia and Egypt and briefly denounced government crackdowns in Libya, Syria and Iran. The keystone of his talk came unexpectedly at the very end as he proposed a Palestinian state based on Israel’s 1967 borders as a way to settle the conflict.
The President’s proposal quickly intensified the already fiery debate of Israeli-Palestinian relations and provoked bipartisan criticism from politicians in Washington. President Obama repeated and clarified his remarks at the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Sunday, calling the status quo in Israel “unsustainable,” and repeating his proposal of a two state solution, “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed (land) swaps.”
President Obama has proven himself to be an idealistic leader, attempting to repair the ills of the world through quick and implausible orders. He sets deadlines, changes appointments and calls together meetings. He is now calling upon Israel, or more accurately stated, threatening Israel, to take action immediately. As he calls for facelifts on half a dozen Middle Eastern countries, he believes he must do the same to Israel.
It might be easy, or maybe overly simplistic, to assume that President Obama is just that unseasoned politician.
Yet in the midst of the post-election uprisings in Iran since 2009, President Obama—widely criticized for his delayed and understated condemnation of the regime and lukewarm support for the protestors—nonetheless extended a hand in friendship to their radical government, hoping to encounter a willing partner on the other end.
After receiving pressure from critics and the Iranian American community, President Obama finally condemned the Iranian government publicly for their brutal attacks against peaceful demonstrators, their inhumane transgressions of human rights and their dastardly evasion of international non-proliferation policies. Typical of the Iranian regime, they masterfully diverted the condemnation and instead pointed to the close relationship between Israel and the United States; Little Satan and Big Satan.
Perhaps, as President Obama sought to engage the Iranian government, he believed they would willingly come to the negotiating table, hoping, at the very least, to find a willingness in the Palestinians to do the same, and at best, become the victorious two-term President who succeeded in reconciling the half- century long rivalry between the Israelis and Palestinians.
But the timing of his proposal was too uncanny. Regardless of one’s views on how the Israelis and Palestinians should come to terms, the topic and explicit plan to return to previous borders were an irrelevant and untimely finale to comments directed at the current status of Mid East affairs.
As the dew of the Arab Spring begins to settle, there are crucial and consequential factors that will affect the future of these countries as well as that of the United States. The defining months and years ahead will prove that nation building, in comparison to dictator ousting, will be far more sensitive and essential to social, cultural and political determinations. The challenge will be in paving the way for secular, non-radical groups and coalitions to serve and meet the needs of ordinary people. Not a Western interpretation of democracy, which does not translate effectively into Middle Eastern politics and societies, but rather a strong secularist front to trump fundamentalist forces in the region.
Instead of appeasing the Iranian regime at the cost of splintering the previously “ironclad” relationship between the United States and Israel, it would have behooved the President to focus on the single element that connects the Arab countries, along with the United States and Israel; namely, combating the spreading radical influences of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The hundreds of demonstrators killed at point blank in Syria, the young Iranians, such as the beautiful and symbolical Neda, shot at as they peacefully marched in the streets, the innocent Israeli citizens, like the Fogel family or the victims of bus and pizza shop suicide bombings together with the thousands of Americans who lost their lives on 9/11 all died at the hands of one common enemy. From its inception, Iran’s ruling clergy has vowed to spread its radical influence across the globe. Today they are manifesting their extremist ideology on three fronts: at home, abroad and through their ongoing nuclear proliferation initiatives.
They have armed Syria with banned weapons helping to fortify and defend the brutal dictatorship of longtime ally Bashar Al Assad. Attempting to win greater influence in the region, Tehran has been exploiting the people’s uprising in Bahrain, possibly costing the Bahraini people their freedom at the cost of entering into a proxy war with rival Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia. A recently developed courtship with Egypt has many fearful of what a potential alliance would mean for the rest of the region. Together with traceable links to Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, Iranian interference in foreign affairs and perpetuation of terrorist activity make them the most dangerous and detrimental force in the world.
Meanwhile, back home the Iranian government continues its reign of terror on its own people, hanging eight men today, including five who were executed in public. Iran is only second to China in having one of the highest rates of yearly executions. Guards and hired militia men were ordered to violently crackdown on protesters in 2009, eliminating the single opportunity the Iranian people had in three decades to loosen the mullah’s chokehold.
Perhaps President Obama was coming off of his career high in the aftermath of ordering the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden, believing in his own political infallibility. It was the highlight of his presidency, surely as far as foreign policy is concerned. He demonstrated a strength and conviction that he has hesitated to show, particularly in advancing Middle East policy. In moving forward, this strength and certainty will be necessary in creating new alliances with the future governments of Tunisia and Egypt and possibly those of Yemen and Libya, forming new longstanding relationships without harming already existing friendships.