Obama's Silence on Gaza Has Already Tarnished His Halo
To fight a war, one must perform many calculations. The enemy forces, the weather, the distance, the stockpiles of munitions. And the electoral calendar. That of the United States has played a role in the Middle East conflict : war has been engaged between the death of one presidency and the birth of another. For the Israelis, there was no more favorable moment to « go too far. »
George W. Bush espoused, unsurprisingly, the position of his predecessors. He has always done so, while disassociating himself (knowingly ?) from the politics of his father. At the end of his presidency, this has been, in a way, a kind of gift. As for Barack Obama, he has missed out on a fine occasion not to keep quiet.
The Democrat, who promised a « new diplomacy, » could have give have restored the hope of the people of the region, Israelis and Palestinians alike ; instead he has limited himself to expressing his « concerns. » He justified himself by stating that to go farther « is not safe for the American people. »
Barack Obama was a ray of light at the end of 2008. Iraq, the financial crisis, racism, unbridled capitalism … the planet dreamed that perhaps he would turn the page. And in such somber times, what a fierce hope it was !
But by hiding under the pretext that « the United States only has one president at a time, » he has sent that hope to the doghouse. There may not be two presidents at a time, but that hasn’t prevented the president-elect from speaking out on the economic crisis.
By remaining silent, Obama indicates continuity. American policy in the Middle East will not change radically from one day to the next, as the link between Washington and Israel is a strong one. Gone are the days when James Baker [George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state] dared « twist the arms » of Israelis to draw them to the Madrid conference.
[Editor’s Note : The Madrid Conference, which convened on October 30, 1991, was an early attempt to initiate a peace process involving Israel and the Palestinians as well as Arab countries including Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan ].
On Thursday [Jan. 8], the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and a complete withdrawal of the Israeli army. The United States publicly supported the text (who could oppose a ceasefire ?) … but abstained from voting, preferring to wait for the results of Egyptian mediation. Obama has made no additional comment.
Must we lose all hope for change ? Not necessarily. But the foreign policy of any country - especially that of the most powerful - doesn’t change course like a dinghy. It’s like an ocean liner driven by an old and cynical engine room. For this boat to turn, it will take time.
In the short term, there will be no Obama miracle. Of course we suspected this, but even before the 44th president sits in the Oval Office, it has become something explicit.
Translated by L. McKenzie Zeiss
January 9, 2008
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