Everyone's Best Friend

Jonathan Tobin on Barry’s moral equivalence speech in Egypt:

…To be Barack Obama is to be, as he says, a person who can see all issues from all sides and defend American interests while at the same time being everyone’s best friend. He sees himself as someone who can achieve Olympian detachment. Speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says: “If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth.”

But there is more than one type of blindness. The search for the truth is not merely an exercise in which all grievances are considered the same. To assert the truth of the Holocaust is appropriate — if unfortunately necessary when addressing an Arab audience — as is calling on the Palestinians to “abandon violence” and to cease “shooting rockets at sleeping children” or blowing up old women on buses.

But the problem with this conflict is not that both sides won’t listen to each other or give peace a chance. That might have been a good point to make prior to the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 when Israel recognized the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations and began the process of handing over large portions of the area reserved by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish National Home for the creation of a Palestinian equivalent. But Israel offered these same Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza as well as part of Jerusalem in 2000 and again in negotiations conducted by the government of Ehud Olmert just last year. So, the problem is not that the Israelis don’t want the two state solution that Obama endorsed in Cairo. Rather, it is, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in Washington only a week ago, that the Palestinians aren’t interested in negotiating with Israel.

Even more obnoxious than this refusal to see that the truth about the conflict isn’t to be found through an even-handed “plague on both your houses” approach is his comparison of the Palestinians’ plight to that of African-Americans in the United States before the civil rights era. Israelis have not enslaved Palestinians. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians rests on the latter’s unwillingness to come to terms with the former’s existence. The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is terrible but it is a direct result of their own decision to choose war over peace, not a lack of understanding on the part of the Jews. Going to the Middle East while ostentatiously avoiding Israel and picking a fight with its leadership sends a message that will resonate throughout the Arab world. His signal that America is now an impartial broker rather than Israel’s ally can only encourage a Palestinian people that continue to reject peace.

Another disappointment was his treatment of the threat from Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. Again, he re-stated the history of our problems with Iran in a context of moral equivalence. While he has stated elsewhere — and promised as much during his run for office — that he will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear capability, such plain talk was absent in Cairo. Nowhere did he say plainly that Iran must stop its nuclear program or call upon other nations to join the effort to restrain Tehran. That was a major blunder and a missed opportunity to rally the Arab world that fears Iranian nukes as much as the Israelis, to step up on the issue before it is too late…

Power Line weighs in:

…The biggest problem with Obama’s speech, I think, is that it was not what it purported to be: the beginning of an honest dialogue between the United States and Muslim countries. Obama promised “to speak the truth as best I can,” but in fact he repeatedly went easy on the truth, preferring instead to pander to his audience. What went unacknowledged is the deep dysfunction of most of the Arab world. Repeatedly, Obama seemed to imply that minor issues in the West are on a par with far more significant and deep-seated failures of Arab countries. The overall effect of the speech was more to give Muslims a warm feeling about their history and cultures than to shed an honest light on the reasons for current tensions between those nations and the West.

This lack of candor was most notable in Obama’s discussion of Israel and the Palestinians. I say this not so much because I disagree with some of what Obama said about that issue, but rather because of the prominence he gave the subject. In his recitation of the “specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together,” Israel came second, after terrorism. Implicitly, Obama ratified the idea that giving the Palestinians a state is the key to peace in the region, and an important element in resolving the problems of Arab countries generally.

But this is incorrect. If Obama really were to speak truth to the Muslim world, he would say that Israel ranks nowhere on the list of Muslim nations’ problems. He would say that the nation of Israel could disappear tomorrow and it would make zero difference in the lives of his Egyptian audience. He would say that the Arabs’ unhealthy obsession with Israel and tolerance of anti-Semitism have been obstacles to the development of Arab countries into healthy societies. He would say that the Palestinians could have had a state long ago if they had wanted one, but they preferred their role as victims–the point of the spear that is intended to drive Jews out of the Middle East.

Of course, if Obama really told the truth to his international Muslim audience, his popularity with that group would plummet. Hence his preference for the same sort of triangulating, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand political speech that he gives so often in the U.S. It’s easy to understand why Obama panders to American audiences–it got him elected President. It is not so clear why presenting overseas Muslims with a sugar-coated view of reality serves the national interests of the United States.

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