NYT: Obama’s an amateur
posted at 10:25 am on November 28, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
It only took them three years to figure it out, of course. The Gray Lady’s ire focuses on the disaster Obama has made of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is usually a rolling disaster anyway. American Presidents haven’t been able to do much to make it better, but as the Times explains, this one’s made it a lot worse than it had to be — mainly because he’s a diplomatic novice with team full of incompetents (via Geoff A):
Peacemaking takes strategic skill. But we see no sign that President Obama and Mr. Mitchell were thinking more than one move down the board. The president went public with his demand for a full freeze on settlements before securing Israel’s commitment. And he and his aides apparently had no plan for what they would do if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said no.
Most important, they allowed the controversy to obscure the real goal: nudging Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks. (We don’t know exactly what happened but we are told that Mr. Obama relied more on the judgment of his political advisers — specifically his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel — than of his Mideast specialists.)
The idea made sense: have each side do something tangible to prove it was serious about peace and then start negotiations. But when Mr. Netanyahu refused the total freeze, President Obama backed down.
Mr. Netanyahu has since offered a compromise 10-month freeze that exempts Jerusalem, schools and synagogues and permits Israel to complete 3,000 housing units already under construction. The irony is that while this offer goes beyond what past Israeli governments accepted, Mr. Obama had called for more. And the Palestinians promptly rejected the compromise.
The editors go on to castigate George Mitchell a little more for blowing the effort with the Saudis, who took their signals from Team Obama. When Obama publicly demanded a halt to all settlements, the Saudis made that their line in the sand. The Times scolds them for doing so, but the fact is that once the US made that demand, it put all the pressure on Israel and took all the pressure off of the other parties in the talks.
As the editorial says, Obama and Mitchell couldn’t think past their own opening move and game out the possibilities. Why might that be? The foreign-policy team that includes Emanuel and Samantha Power (at the National Security Council) has ideological interests in getting Israel to surrender. Power suggested a few years ago that the Western nations should invade and occupy Israel in order to set the Palestinians free. With that kind of advice flowing at the White House, this diktat on settlements is hardly surprising, nor is its end result.
When Newsweek and the New York Times tells a Democratic president that he’s screwing up foreign policy, it’s time to clean house and start getting professional help. Unfortunately, neither of these publications considered the ramifications of endorsing an inexperienced ideologue for the top job when it counted.