Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Clueless in Gaza

It's pretty much conventional wisdom that Obama is already president in all but name. He and his transition team are talking to everybody who is anybody about the economy, social policy, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. Bush, Cheney, Rice, & Co. are either moping around with nothing to do or making stops on their “redemption tour”. All true... and probably just as well... “except”. There is a wall of silence from the Obama camp when it comes to events in Gaza, while the president and his crew are cheering very loudly for Israel. This is one – and really the only – area where Obama is observing his supposedly-sacred “one president at a time” rule; the rest of the time he's in it with both feet.

So c'mon, Barack, why so gloomy and silent on Gaza? Why not join the Neocon cheering section – or, alternatively, join the rest of the world in suggesting alternatives to, basically, the carpet bombing of an area about the size of a small American city? Why not suggest that a death and casualty ratio of one Israeli to every 100 Palestinians might, just might, reflect some degree of overreaction, or disproportionality? Hmmm? Well, of course, Obama has already been “briefed” by the Israeli lobby – this happened months ago – and he knows that what's good for Israel is good for American politicians, and vice versa, if you get my drift. He also sees how much success Bush and Co. have had in the Near East, and it's starting to dawn on him that he's seeing his own fate in their failures. He's like the person staring at that famous old English tombstone that reads, “As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare for death and follow me.” Except in his case, it's not so much literal death as foreign policy death. Israel is the tar baby to which every American president must become stuck for the full extent of his term, and none of them is even allowed to think about ways to become unstuck (or, not to become stuck to begin with).

And of course a major consequence of this intractability is that the Arab/Moslem world sees American and Israeli foreign policy as identical – and rightly so. So any attack on the Palestinians by Israel is seen as an attack by the U.S. -- and does this “fan the flames” of anti-American hostility higher each time? Does it put us in an ever more isolated position on the world scene? Does it make us, in effect, a “rogue state”, part of a two-headed beast with Israel as the other head? Yes, to all the above. The Europeans look on with dismay and barely-concealed contempt... and the Russians, Chinese, and all their allies just laugh. And Iran, of course, piles on the propaganda since they can't ever resist provoking the two-headed beast.

So Obama's silence has nothing to do with this “one president at a time” nonsense, since that factor doesn't seem to worry him or any of his team the rest of the time. And it's not that he has some secret plan but just doesn't want to tip his hand and let Bush steal the march on him (as if!). And it's certainly not that he's planning to disengage with Israel, or tell its American cheering section to get lost. None of this will happen! What he's facing is that, on Inauguration Day, his lap will be filled with a host of failures, one of the greatest – and certainly oldest – of which is our Israel policy. And he already knows that he'll be helpless to do anything about it, since it's Israel who runs the show, and us who just obey orders.

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