Change that looks awfully familiar

Barack Obama is staring failure in the Middle East in the eye and, frighteningly, all signs point to him liking what he sees. 

I wanted so badly to give the man the benefit of the doubt on this. When he appointed Hillary Clinton, a tireless Israeli apologist, as Secretary of State, I looked for a silver lining. Clinton, I suggested, would be the perfect “only Nixon could go to China” emissary to carry a new “tough love” message to Israel.

And I was right: she would be. Unfortunately, not every Nixon actually ends up going to China. And given the other appointments Obama has been making, it’s getting very difficult to believe that either Clinton or Obama intends to go anywhere near the place.

Roger Cohen, someone I rarely find reason to quote, is right on target on this one. After noting how important it is that Obama’s Middle Eastern team include at least one member with a reputation for being somewhat sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations, he writes:

In fact, the people likely to play significant roles on the Middle East in the Obama Administration read rather differently.

They include Dennis Ross (the veteran Clinton administration Mideast peace envoy who may now extend his brief to Iran); James Steinberg (as deputy secretary of state); Dan Kurtzer (the former U.S. ambassador to Israel); Dan Shapiro (a longtime aide to Obama); and Martin Indyk (another former ambassador to Israel who is close to the incoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.)

Now, I have nothing against smart, driven, liberal, Jewish (or half-Jewish) males; I’ve looked in the mirror. I know or have talked to all these guys, except Shapiro. They’re knowledgeable, broad-minded and determined. Still, on the diversity front they fall short.
On the change-you-can-believe-in front, they also leave something to be desired.

In an adulatory piece in Newsweek, Michael Hirsh wrote: “Ross’s previous experience as the indefatigable point man during the failed Oslo process, as well as the main negotiator with Syria, make him uniquely suited for a major renewal of U.S. policy on nearly every front.”

Really? I wonder about the capacity for “major renewal” of someone who has failed for so long.

This simply isn’t the crew someone desirous of meaningful change in America’s Middle Eastern policy would choose to bring on board.

Now, almost certainly, there will be some change around the edges: I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if Obama is more open to the idea of increased contact with Hamas. So what? Unless talk somehow translates into action, it just becomes so much more desert wind. If there’s one thing the Arab-Israeli issue hasn’t lacked for over the years, it’s been useless talk.

In fact, while I desperately hope I’m wrong, my guess is that this represents the most likely outcome for Obama’s Middle Eastern policy: a lot of empty talk followed by more of the same.

And if that’s true, things won’t just fail to get better: they’ll get worse. If actual change isn’t forthcoming, the hopefulness that many in the region felt, at least initially, over Obama’s election, will quickly turn into even deeper hatred for the United States, the natural byproduct of disappointment.

And if change is coming, right now it’s hard to see from where.

4 Responses to “Change that looks awfully familiar”

  1. Larkrise Says:

    I am going to say something, and hope I regret having said it. “Now, almost certainly, there will be some change around the edges….” I see that as the catchphrase for much of what will be the Obama Administration. Please, let me be wrong, please. Salazar, Daschle, Clinton, etc., etc. a lot of re-treads with dubious positions in the past. Salazar, for example, has supported mining interests. Daschle didnt set the world on fire; and, like Pelosi and Reid, was good at caving in. We know all about Hillary and her vote for the War in Iraq, among other not very progressive positions. There has been a lot of lovely rhetoric, promises, and slogans. However, a tired, old gal, with a questionable reputation, can get a face lift, new clothes, dye her hair and wear nice make-up, but underneath she is still the same person, if her behavior doesnt really change. Politicians have been whores to special interests, big money, and heavy-duty lobbyists for years. It has come to be accepted that this is how the game is played. In Obama, those of us who still held on to a shred of hope, hoped that he actually would “change” the self-serving but self-defeating policies and actions that have dominated Washington for generations. The country is in big trouble from two ongoing wars, an economy that is crumbling, and millions without jobs, millions without healthcare. Yet, Obama is going to get mired down in Afghanistan; and isnt yet addressing healthcare, other than to continue to promote private pay insurance. As for the economy, why arent the Democrats going after the billions the banks refuse to give an accounting for, and demand repayment? Seize some damned assets, for God’s sake!!! All I see is a lot of ’same old, same old’, with a great deal of backtracking and politicking. The packaging is a bit new and shiney, but is there substance in the box? As I said, I hope I am being impatient and more than a bit cynical. Still, “when you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” We have had 8 years of destructive policies under George W. Bush. If there are too many compromises, we will end up as rubble.

  2. Chuck Says:

    So here it is. early in the morning and I can’t get to sleep (sounds like a song I heard,) having just finished Ann Jones’ article at Tom Dispatch which makes me think Obama is just “Bush Lite”, the “Broken Government” from Public Integrity, and am half way through the book “The Devil’s Highway. What a bummer of a reading list.

    I do recomend the book though. Of course I might be a bit biased since we have a 20 year old kid lthats been iving with us for the past 2 or 3 years who waded the river when he was just 12 and abandoned and somehow ended up here. He considers my wife the mother he never had.We have forced him to graduate from high school & he is now strugling through his 2d year of Community College. Don’t know why I had to say all this about the kid.

    But still, all this stuff coming in a bundle is a bit of a downer.

  3. Chuck Says:

    Sorry to say I have to agree with Larkrise.

  4. Chuck Says:

    I didn’t mean to imply I don’t usually agree with Larkrise, because I almost always do. She’s always very sharp and articulate. I just meant that I wish she wasn’t right about this; but I think she is.

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