The first days of any presidency have a heavy burden of symbolism, with the world watching each move to get a sense of the new American leader. One of the key symbolic moments comes when the president picks up the phone to dial his first foreign head of state. Who will receive that first call and get the sense of American friendship that it represents? The UK? Canada? Australia? France? Not this time, folks — Obama has other priorities:
President Obama placed the Middle East at the forefront of his first hours in office yesterday as he sought to make good on his promise of “ushering in a new era of peace”.
In a flurry of telephone calls from the Oval Office, he reached out to leaders in the region and vowed to engage immediately in pursuit of a permanent Arab-Israeli settlement.
The spokesman for President Abbas revealed that Mr Obama had told the Palestinian leader that their conversation was his first with a foreign statesman since taking office. Mr Obama also spoke to President Mubarak of Egypt, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and King Abdullah of Jordan.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the talks with Middle East leaders underlined a “commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term”. He added: “In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, he emphasised his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating, in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, a major reconstruction effort.”
So his first call outside the US went to the leader of Fatah, who has terrorist background and terrorist units reporting to him, such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade? How comforting. Even as a tip of the hat to his focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, shouldn’t the first call have been to America’s ally, Israel?
In fact, the choice of this particular conflict makes little sense. We have nations actually fighting alongside of us in Afghanistan in our own war on terror. Nations like Canada, the UK, Australia, Holland, and others have joined us in combat and taken casualties to help further the West’s goal of defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They should have gotten more attention from our incoming president if only to recognize their sacrifice and ongoing commitment to our shared cause.
Instead, Obama chose to reach out to Abu Mazen, who participated in the plot to kill Israeli athletes in Munich during the 1972 Olympics, and who still runs terrorist organizations out of the Palestinian Authority. Small wonder France has suddenly lost its enthusiasm for adding to the NATO contingent in Afghanistan.