As always, nobody understands the Mideast conflict better than Barry Rubin.
He has written two posts about Barack Obama’s Cairo speech that are must-reads: “Speaking Flattery to Power” and “Good intentions plus misunderstanding equals failure“.
I want to print them out and nail them to the White House door. But I suppose that like anyone else, the President and his advisors have difficulty hearing voices with which they don’t already agree.
Although you really should read all of Rubin’s articles, here are a few of his comments.
On Obama’s understanding of the Palestinians and the likelihood that his approach will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
Turning to Palestinians, he uses an appealing image but one so wrong that it undermines Obama’s entire approach. The Palestinians, he says, have “suffered in pursuit of a homeland” for more than 60 years.
But if that were true the issue would have been solved 60 years ago (1948 through partition), 30 years ago (1979 and Anwar Sadat’s initiative) or 9 years ago (Camp David-2). What has brought Palestinian suffering is the priority on total victory and Israel’s destruction rather than merely getting a homeland. This is the reason why the conflict won’t be solved in the next week, month, or year.
On Obama’s demand that Palestinians should give up violent ‘resistance’:
“Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed,” citing the American civil rights’ movement as example. This sounds noble but it is silly because it ignores the social and ideological context.
Fatah believes it got control of the West Bank and leadership of the Palestinian people through violence and killing. Hamas in Gaza; Hizballah and Syria in Lebanon; and Iran’s Islamist regime as well as the Muslim Brotherhoods believe that “resistance” works.
From the standpoint of Palestinian leaders, violence and killing are not failures. Moreover, violence and killing are commensurate with the goal of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian leadership, which is total victory. Their main alternative “peaceful” strategy is the demand—shared by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas—that pretty much all Palestinians who wish to do so must be allowed to live in Israel. A formula for more violence and killing.
None of this is rocket science. All you need to do is listen to what the Palestinians say and watch what they do, instead of wishfully imposing liberal Western ideals on people who don’t share them. Why are our politicians incapable of doing this?
On his implication that the major onus will be on Israel:
Obama’s phrases were carefully crafted. He called on Palestinians to stop violence, show their competence in administration, and accept a two-state solution, living in peace alongside Israel. Hamas was commanded to be moderate. Yet he in no way seemed to condition Palestinians getting a state on their record. His administration may think this way but he didn’t make that clear.
Middle Eastern ears won’t hear this aspect–which is part of the reason they may cheer the speech—in the way Washington policymakers intend. Inasmuch as the United States now has more credibility for them it’s because they hope it will just force Israel to give without them having to do much. When this doesn’t happen, anger will set in, intensified by the fact that the president “said” the Palestinians are in the right and should have a state right away.
Everything specific concerning Israel’s needs and demands–an end to incitement, security for Israel, end of terrorism, resettlement of refugees in Palestine—weren’t there. While Israel was specifically said to violate previous agreements on the construction within settlements issue—an assertion that’s flat-out wrong—there was no hint that the Palestinians had done so.
This, too isn’t rocket science. Maybe the reason is just that it’s much easier to pressure Israel, a real state with responsibilities (and which is dependent on the US for essential military equipment) than to affect the behavior of non-state entities that are supported by Iran.
On the relationship of the West to the Muslim world:
The first problem is that Obama said many things factually quite untrue, some ridiculously so. Pages would be required to list all these inaccuracies. The interesting question is whether Obama consciously lied or really believes it. I’d prefer him to be lying, because if he’s that ignorant then America and the world is in very deep trouble.
If he really believes Islam’s social role is so perfect, radical Islamists are a tiny minority, Palestinians have suffered hugely through no fault of their own, and so on, then he’s living in a fantasy world. Unfortunately, we are not. The collision between reality and dream is going to be a terrible one.
The second problem is the speech’s unnecessarily extreme one-sidedness. Obama portrays the West as the guilty party. Despite a reference to September 11—even that presented as an American misdeed, unfair dislike of Islam resulting—he gave not a single example of Islamist or Muslim responsibility for anything wrong in the world… [my emphasis}
So if Muslims are always the innocent victims, isn’t [sic] Usama bin Ladin and others correct in saying that all the violence and terrorism to date has been just a “defensive Jihad” against external aggression and thus justifiable? Why should anything change simply because Obama has “admitted” this and asked to start over again?
And on Obama’s contrition:
In the Middle East if you say you’re to blame, that communicates to the other side that their cause is right and they’re entitled to everything it wants. If you apologize, you’re weak. Sure, [although] some relatively Westernized urban liberals will take what Obama said [as he intends], I doubt whether radical states and political forces, as well as the masses, will do so.
The main ingredient in the Obama speech was flattery. There is a bumper sticker that says: Don’t apologize. Your friends don’t need to hear it and your enemies don’t care.
Obama’s situation might be described as: Don’t grovel. It scares the hell out of your friends and convinces your enemies you owe them big time.
Obama may think he’s reversing the rhetorical mistakes of the bellicose George Bush. Unfortunately, he’s gone way too far. I needed my anti-nausea pills for some of this.
It is depressing to see that the administration’s ‘new’ approach is already doomed. It took Bill Clinton 8 years to understand that Yasser Arafat was not Mahatma Gandhi; let’s hope that Barack Obama is a quicker study.