Sunday, November 29th, 2009
In case you missed it, check out Saturday’s New York Times editorial blasting President Obama for the high expectations and low performance of his Middle East policy.
The Times wanted to see serious U.S. action to force a sweeping settlements freeze; instead, what the administration eventually accomplished was a ten-month pause in construction that seems full of holes and which has angered just about everyone – except, possibly, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever,” the Times writes. “Peacemaking takes strategic skill. But we see no sign that President Obama and Mr. Mitchell were thinking more than one move down the board.”
What I’m wondering: Is this because administration policymakers are still unskilled in the complex ways of Middle East politics, as the Times seems to suggest, or because they are excessively concerned with the domestic response to any serious action they take?
More and more, the administration seems hobbled by an excessively political approach to critical decisions on both foreign policy and domestic matters. In the case of the Middle East – where any serious U.S. move, whether to the right or the left, is sure to infuriate a lot of people – that’s a prescription for complete paralysis.
I’m not suggesting the administration should be tougher on the issue of settlements, or back off entirely; I am suggesting that President Obama risks making himself irrelevant in Middle East matters when political factors lead to erratic and unclear policies.