Obama is not delivering the goods

Obama’s America is not delivering the goods

With great sorrow and deep consternation, we hereby declare the death of the latest hope. Perhaps rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase the famous quote by Mark Twain, but the fears are being validated day after day. Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods. Sharing a glass of beer with a racist cop and a pat on the back of Hugo Chavez are not what we hoped for; wholesale negotiations on freezing settlement construction are also not what we expected. Just over six months after the most promising president of all began his term, perhaps hope has a last breath left, but it is on its deathbed.

He came into office amid much hoopla. The Cairo speech ignited half the globe. Making settlements the top priority gave rise to the hope that, finally, a statesman is sitting in the White House who understands that the root of all evil is the occupation, and that the root of the occupation’s evil is the settlements. From Cairo, it seemed possible to take off. The sky was the limit.

Then the administration fell into the trap set by Israel and is showing no signs of recovery.

A settlement freeze, something that should have been understood by a prime minister who speaks with such bluster about two states – a peripheral matter that Israel committed to in the road map – has suddenly turned into a central issue. Special envoy George Mitchell is wasting his time and prestige with petty haggling. A half-year freeze or a full year? What about the 2,500 apartment units already under construction? And what about natural growth? And kindergartens?

Perhaps they will reach a compromise and agree on nine months, not including natural growth though allowing completion of apartments already under construction. A grand accomplishment.

Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington. Once again we are at the starting point – dealing with trifles from which it is impossible to make the big leap over the great divide.

We expected more from Obama. Menachem Begin promised less, and he made peace within the same amount of time after he took office. When the main issue is dismantling the settlements, the pulsating momentum that came with Obama is petering out. Instead, we are paddling in shallow water. Mitchell Schmitchel. What’s in it for peace? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will once again meet him in London at the end of the month. A “magic formula” for a settlement freeze may be found there, but the momentum is gone.

Not in Israel, though. Here people quickly sensed that there is nothing to fear from Obama, and the fetters were taken off. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quick to declare that there is no Palestinian partner, even after the Fatah conference elected the most moderate leadership that has ever been assembled in Palestine. Afterward, in a blatant act of provocation, he brought a Torah scroll into the heart of the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in full view of television cameras, just so America can see who’s boss around here.

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, another two politicians who smell American weakness, were quick to declare during a visit to Ma’aleh Adumim that Israel will not freeze any construction. To hell with Obama. The settlers continue to move into more homes in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu is silent and Israelis sense that the “danger” has passed. Israel is once again permitted to do as it pleases. The landlord has once again gone insane. Except that the landlord has gone insane because the real landlord is showing signs of weakness, signs of folding, signs of losing interest in events in the region that most endangers world peace.

Nothing remains from the speeches in Cairo and Bar-Ilan University. Obama is silent, and Yishai speaks. Even “Israel’s friends” in Washington, friends of the occupation, are once again rearing their heads.

One source familiar with Obama’s inner circle likened him this week to a man who inflates a number of balloons every day in the hope that one of them will rise. He will reach his goal. The source compared him to Shimon Peres, an analogy that should insult Obama. The trial balloons the U.S. president sends our way have yet to take off. One can, of course, wait for the next balloon, the Obama peace plan, but time is running out. And Israel is not sitting idly by.

The minute Jerusalem detected a lack of American determination, it returned to its evil ways and excuses. “There is no partner,” “Abu Mazen is weak,” “Hamas is strong.” And there are demands to recognize a Jewish state and for the right to fly over Saudi Arabia – anything in order to do nothing.

An America that will not pressure Israel is an America that will not bring peace. True, one cannot expect the U.S. president to want to make peace more than the Palestinians and Israelis, but he is the world’s responsible adult, its great hope. Those of us who are here, Mr. President, are sinking in the wretched mud, in “injury time.”

Editor’s Comment — When an 11 year-old gets the privilege of going to The White House to interview the president and the kid respectfully observes, “I notice as president you get bullied a lot,” it’s time to sit up straight.

Obama’s lack of backbone is apparent to a child and his method for handling getting bullied — “if I’m doing a good job, I’m doing my best, and I’m trying to always help people, then that keeps me going” — might make him feel better but it does little to push back those who are emboldened by his weakness.

Is Obama capable of imposing his will? After six months we should know the answer to that question. The fact that we don’t is a problem.

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3 thoughts on “Obama is not delivering the goods

  1. DE Teodoru

    Worry not about Obama for though he can’t deliver goods now, he will take them from thief and give them back to rightful owner before the drama ends. Right now he is busy fighting American thieves– HMOs– so he can’t be in two places at once (US and Mideast). But later he will indeed make Israel do right; US can’t afford not to. But woe be the Zionazis trying to put the Americanism of US Jews in doubt by intimidating them into silent compliance with the injustice to their Palestinian Semitic brethren of an illbegotten much Greater Israel.

  2. Jon

    I can’t believe that people ever took Obama so seriously. He is a cynical product of advertising and corporate America. OK, he’s not Bush. So what?

  3. hquain

    It’s worth remembering where we were a year ago. Many of us were near despair as the Obama campaign seemed to be following in the footsteps of Kerry’s, letting itself be slapped around endlessly and responding with a wan smile. The primary campaign basically died in the stretch as Hillary pulled off a last few futile victories and then it seemed to go silent for July. Obama’s outstanding acceptance speech did not ignite a vigorous campaign, as planned: it disappeared within 18hrs — and has never been heard from since — because of the politically brilliant stroke of announcing Palin’s candidacy the next day. The Republicans then proceeded to lose the election through sheer repulsiveness; recall that several of the big rightwing pundits were wavering at the end — even Krauthammer, briefly — unable to suppress the obvious, that Obama was superior in every respect to their man and that Palin was a positive threat to national security.

    Fast forward through the last year and it’s clear that the campaign never stopped — and its style did not change, either. Obama is still trying to appeal through decency, rationality, and cool; the Republicans are lobbing bombs; the Democrats mill around, contradicting each other and themselves. The terrain has changed, though. It is no longer enough to sit on the high ground and let the bad guys reveal their badness. Politicians in power must report successes. Obama stirred us by turning directly to face the problems that the Republicans had denied, hidden from, or created. On every visible front, he has apparently been stymied, inconsistent, watered-down, weakly prepared (to me, this is the real shocker), or even Bush-like (think of his recent words about Afghanistan to the VFW; his dithering about indefinite detention, and so on — OK, this is also a real shocker). The bipartisanship canard, which involved ceding real authority over policy to rightists, has backfired. Rahm Emmanuel’s do-it-all-now strategy appears to be headed toward across-the-board failure (largely predictable — what theory of management deems it sane to fight all battles at once?). And the wages of perceived lack of power is real lack of power.

    The air has gone out of the balloon more slowly, perhaps, than in Clinton’s first term, where in a matter of days he had the press all over him and a prominent legislative failure (gays in the military: remember Sam Nunn?). Woodward is absolutely right to be concerned about perceptions that Obama is not in control. 2010 is around the corner; the incumbent party typically loses seats at the midterms; a partial economic recovery will simply make people forget that anything ever went wrong and worry about the deficit that brought them the recovery. So far the principal public effect of the Obama presidency has been a resurgence of the far right, with the added spice of openly racist discourse appearing more widely than it has for decades.

    What is the way back? This is no rhetorical question. We are in very deep trouble if one is not found.

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