Obama Power and the Al-Arabiya Interview


Barack Obama’s decision to give his first sit down, formal presidential interview with Al-Arabiya is really inspired. He is “Mr. Engagement.” And this is a darned impressive move.
He is opening the door to new possibilities. I am going to scribble some more on this later, but this really needs to be seen and understood in its full context.
There is much more to do — and this progress can also be derailed.
It is important to remember that George W. Bush in the first bit of his administration also opened the door on the Palestinian question by actually referring to Palestine by name, with no qualifiers. And then progress was frozen as the administration changed course.
More soon.
— Steve Clemons


17 comments on “Obama Power and the Al-Arabiya Interview

  1. PissedOffAmerican says:

    From “sub-Saharan Africa”
    Next thing we know, he’ll be calling himself Donald Duck, and he’ll claim to be a toon.


  2. Sharif says:

    Asinine? That best describes your arguments and assertions, Joe M.
    I’m a Muslim – from sub-Saharan Africa – and i find the notion that the “Jews will be forced back to Europe” delusional, to put it kindly. The sheer emotionality of your piece indicates to me that you are not the typical man-in-the-street the new President seeks to reach out to.
    In fact, Joe M., you exhibit, through your piece, the extreme fanatical positions that have stood in the way of reasonable discourse aimed at making progress towards peace in the Middle East. The “bankruptcy” of ideas and “nervousness” of which President Obama speaks is amply demonstrated in your rantings, Joe M.


  3. Kathleen G says:

    Cee “unassailable” right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel” based on what?
    A book written by a bunch of Jewish guys with a claim that the land was given to them by god. What a bunch of hooey. One of the biggest real estate scams in the world


  4. Kathleen G says:

    Don S. That is a line that is repeated by Israelis and some Americans who want to blame the Palestinians. Every Arab leader I have heard speak recognizes Israel exists based on the 67 border. Just take out the word “right” to exist
    As Professor Norman Finkelstein and former President Jimmy Carter have both stated we need to focus on the facts. Both the International World Court and the Un have stated clearly that the settlements are illegal and the “wall, fence, barrier” is also illegal (specifically the part built on Palestinian lands) Israel’s way of confiscating more lands illegally.
    Whether Mitchell is able to negotiate based on the facts is another question.


  5. DonS says:

    Would an empowered Mitchell recognize the non-negotiable elements of the Likud charter relating to settlements as an obstacle to a reasonable peace settlement, as highligted in this post at MOA?
    The Israel firsters, neocons, and assorted gullibles are quick to claim as a non-starter and impediment to peace the Arabs supposed unwillingness to even recognize the existence of Israel. Would Mr. Mitchell being willing to bring up the Likud charter in conversation with Mr. Netanyahu? It would seem a logical tradoff that the Likud charter be deemed as irrelevant as the Hamas charter. If not, why not?


  6. Kathleen G says:

    Thank You President Obama. Wise words lets hope that the actions back up those grand words.


  7. Cee says:

    The next time he appears he should tell the Likud to change their charter. Think they’ll listen?
    The Likud charter from 1999 as available on http://www.knesset.gov.il says:
    The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.

    The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.
    Judea and Samaria are the West Bank.


  8. Dan Kervick says:

    These friendly symbolic gestures will all be undermined quite rapidly if Obama doesn’t empower George Mitchell to make a break from established US policy.
    Given the itinerary for the Mitchell trip, I’m not sure it should even be taken. Meeting only with Fatah and Abbas on the Palestinian side, along with the usual gang of discredited despots, only sends a message of US cluelessness, and will suggest to people in the region that the US doesn’t even know what is going on over there. If for political reasons the US administration is unable to get real at this time, then they shouldn’t accelerate peacemaking efforts until they are prepared to get real at a later time.
    If you are trying to end a war, then you need to tour the war zone, or at least meet with the two parties who are actually at war. Dallying with the most discredited leaders in the region all around the periphery of the massacre, while keeping a haughty remove from the scene of the butchery itself, just looks obtuse and supercilious – and even cruel.
    The Likud candidate in Israel, who is apparently headed toward victory, is articulating policies that are at odds with US policies and interests, and incompatible with any reasonable peace plan. If Mitchell refuses to address these policies squarely and criticize them, out of a desire not to be seen as interfering with the Israeli election, he will instead be seen as greenlighting the “natural growth” of Israel’s West Bank colonies.
    It is hard to see how anything good comes out of this trip if the Obama administration refuses to seize the moment, get out ahead of events instead of being dragged along behind them, and break out of the crippling conventional wisdom and stultifying taboos in Washington which make progress impossible. A things stand now, I can see the dispirited headlines proclaiming “Business as Usual” throughout the region following Mitchell’s trip.
    To adapt a famous Lincoln quip, it is better to be suspected as a betrayer of hope than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Talking is good. But if the only thing that is going to come out of administration mouths is BS, it’s better to shut up.


  9. Linda says:

    The situation needs to be framed differently as Obama has started and is speaking to the ordinary people in both Gaza and Israel who do want peace.
    People have the choice to believe that this will end with the same old attempts at peace and the same results. But I like the idea of moving forward and not dwelling on them, as horrible as they have been, especially how the people in Gaza have suffered.
    I am willing to be patient and give this a chance after eight years of nothing happening, i.e., give peace a chance–even if the odds of success are small.
    The only way to honor the memory and deaths of so many children is to work hard to ensure that not one more Palestinian or Israeli child dies.


  10. questions says:

    I can’t imagine that Obama would announce on Al-Arabiya, or anywhere else in public, that Israel is now fair game.
    Of course he’s not going to change US foreign policy on tv. Diplomatic pressure will be asserted slowly and gently. US interests (if they can be determined — I’m never sure about this one) will not be well-served by suddenly announcing that we’ve become Arabist in orientation (there’s a pun in there somewhere I think). The negotiations will be multilateral, aware of resource issues (water is bigger than oil perhaps) and domestic Islamacist pressures, with the US weighing in on Israel’s side publicly, but IMHO, putting some pressure on Israel to pull back from the West Bank in careful measure.
    If Hamas and Fatah are clever, they will do a good cop/bad cop routine and get something decent for the West Bank. I’m not sure they can cooperate enough to pull this off, but it would be interesting. Fatah comes out smelling like a sweet rose, rides into Gaza and saves the day. If there is enough money and border crossing, perhaps something will happen. Gazans may be willing to vote for Fatah if Fatah can provide the stuff of life with minimal corruption.
    On the other hand, it’s not like Israel is feeling very hopey-changey right now, so maybe not.
    (By the way, beware of using the Tao te Ching, it’s a repressive political document at its heart — the quiet soul it asks us to have and the silent GOODNESS we are to display are there more for rulers to have an easier time ruling than for people to live well. I love the elegance and mysticism of taoism, but I always keep it a bit distant from my soul as a caution against giving in to what really is a kind of “keep the people well fed and they won’t bug you”ism.)


  11. ... says:

    steve, i admire your optimism, especially as i don’t share it.. obama was very clear in stating his allegiance to israel first and foremost…
    there is a saying from the tao teh ching i would like to quote..
    True words aren’t eloquent;
    eloquent words aren’t true.
    Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
    men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.


  12. Don Bacon says:

    Obama said it all: There is an “Isaeli-Palestine conflict” and the US is a strong ally of Israel.
    When Obama frames the situation this way, as a conflict instead of an illegal, oppressive occupation, eviction and oppression, and when the US sides with the oppressors, particularly in their recent destruction of Gaza, the outcome of any “peace initiative” is obvious — the elimination of any Palestine hopes.
    George Mitchell is a good man (he’s from Maine, after all) but he’s been sent on a fool’s errand. His current trip is just a PR cover: ‘Well we tried and failed.’


  13. DonS says:

    I too, think this is an interesting gambit by Obama.
    A couple of observations however: Obama already “reached out” to Muslims in the Inaugural address, and Muslims (and others throughout the world) were already impressed that a non white with even vague Muslim ties could be elected in America. This was icing on the cake. But what is the cake made of, especially re Isr/Pal? Talk in the end is cheap.
    Obama continues to balance his outreach with tough talk against “terrorists”, assuming various audiences can draw the distinctions that he apparently intends. Again, the ME. Hamas, Hezbollah; terrorists? Also social service providers and, in the case of Hamas, elected to office, and with more apparent street cred than Fatah. So Obama’s message is clearly not read the same by all.
    Obama has laid himself open, or confirmed, the propaganda of the right wing that he is a stealth Muslim; and that segment of the population tends to equate any Muslim with godless, terroristic, uncivilized people. Obama now needs to perform, putting the pressure on in Isr/Pal. Simply papering over the current mess, again, or shepherding a failed peace initiative, get’s him nowhere. Better to do nothing than to reinforce the recognition of America the Israeli stooge. Failing in a bold gesture simply strengthens the AIPAC story line.
    The opening rhetorical flourishes have been conservative and safe. Hillary: Hamas needs to renounce violence, recognize Israel, etc, etc. Israel needs to “stop settlement expansion” — what a decades old joke). Obama: both Israel and Palestinians have “tough choices”; this is quoted as supposedly putting pressure on Israel. Right.
    Hopefully Obama can have Mitchell crack head behind the scenes, but even getting Israel’s attention that Obama may be serious about changing direction will require a stout 2 X 4. Make that a 12″ steel I-beam. I doubt Obama’s preferred “inclusion” style will find many takers in the ME.


  14. JohnH says:

    In a similar vein, Susan Rice called for direct diplomacy with Iran.
    That’s encouraging, as long as the tone is constructive and the content has something to do with reality.
    Current US ‘conversations” are nothing short of absurdist, clear symptoms of a postmodern foreign policy:
    US: Stop your nuclear weapons progam.
    Iran: We don’t have one and you know it.
    US: Yes you do. We know it.
    Iran: No, we don’t–and you have proof.
    US: I don’t care! Stop it, or else!
    US: Stop supplying the Iraqi insurgency.
    Iran: Why would we promote an insurgency against our friend, the government of Iraq?
    US: Because your’re perverse and devious Iranians.
    US: Stop supporting terrorism.
    Iran: You mean terrorism like bombing hospitals, schools, ambulances and wedding parties?
    US: No, we mean terrorism as in supplying Hezbollah and Hamas.
    Iran: I see, so they can have their hospitals, schools, ambulances and wedding parties bombed with impunity?
    US: You don’t get it. Stop it or else we’ll bomb your hospitals, schools, ambulances and wedding parties.
    Iran: If you agree to lift economic sanctions and not attack us, then we’ll consider it.
    US: No deal!
    Iran: So you have proof that we have no nuke program, we have no reason to support the Iraqi insurgency, and you can have a deal on the table for what you call terrorism. Could we just do a deal and be done with all this nonsense?
    US: No.
    Iran: What else do you want?
    US: Can’t say.
    Iran: Well, then, we can’t help you.
    US: Yes you can! You know what it is.
    Iran: No, please tell us.
    US: No can do.
    Iran: So are we supposed to intuit your desires?
    US: HAND OVER THE OIL, DAMN IT!! Or we’ll blow you to smithereens.
    Iran: Like Iraq? How did that work out? Getting any more oil?
    US: Shut up!!!
    Ya gotta love the way the US government holds a conversation! They sound like 10 year old boys on a playground.


  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Obama’s words, thus far, have proven to be empty. Rhetoric means nothing without action, and his silence during the bloodbath in Gaza says far more about him than this interview with Al-Arabiya does.
    Bottom line? Why should Israel behave in a manner that treats the Palestinians like humans if the billions of United State’s moneys are not contingent on Israel’s behavior?
    I have not seen Obama decry Israel’s illegal, inhumane, and monstrous use of White Phosphorous in civilian enclaves, have you? I have not seen Obama mention Israel’s complete disregard for numerous UN resolutions and admonitions, have you?
    Now we have Mitchell crawling over there to converse with Israeli war criminals, while having no intention of talking to Hamas. Meanwhile, these genocidal ogres in the Israeli leadership continue to blockade the border to a devastated strip of land that they have reduced to a sewage invested swamp of human misery and suffering.
    Following, one can find the complete disregard Isarael holds for world opinion, and any sincere efforts at peace. And regardless of Israel’s actions, these slimey lying posturing pukes like Pelosi and Reid will continue to grease the ways for Israel to continue to recieve billions of American taxpayer dollars while our infrastructure and our foundational tenets decay and rot.
    Israel’s Netanyahu: Existing settlements will grow
    Israel’s Netanyahu says he’ll let existing West Bank settlements grow, despite US opposition
    AP News
    Jan 26, 2009 09:43 EST
    The front-runner in Israel’s election next month said he would allow existing West Bank settlements to expand for “natural growth” — a policy likely to face opposition from the Palestinians and the new U.S. administration.
    The comments by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in an Israeli newspaper on Monday, just two days before Washington’s new Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, is expected to make his first visit to the region. Mitchell, a critic of Israel’s West Bank settlements, is expected to meet with Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, and focus on ways to revive peace talks in the wake of Israel’s recent offensive in the Gaza Strip.
    Netanyahu, an opponent of current U.S.-backed peace talks, was quoted by the Haaretz daily as telling international Mideast envoy Tony Blair at a meeting Sunday that he would continue Israel’s policy of allowing existing settlements to expand.
    “I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “But like all the governments there have been until now, I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements.”
    A Netanyahu spokeswoman, Dina Libster, confirmed the quotes were accurate. Blair’s office did not return messages seeking comment.


  16. Linda says:

    For those who didn’t hear the entire interview on Anderson Cooper last night, do listen to or read transcript of all of it–probably about 20 minutes.
    Steve, I’m eager to read your more extensive comments and analysis.


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