Yesterday Jonathan Tobin offered a cogent analysis of Obama-Kerry Middle East policy ineptitude on the Commentary blog.
Egypt is coming apart at the seams. The Syrian civil war has taken the lives of over 100,000 people and the Assad regime—which President Obama has demanded give up power—appears to be winning with the help of Russian and Iranian arms and Hezbollah ground forces. Iran has vowed to continue enriching uranium, as it gets closer to amassing enough to build a nuclear weapon. And the Putin government in Russia continues to thumb its nose at the United States by refusing—as did China—to hand over NSA leaker/spy Edward Snowden.
With all that on its plate, you’d think America’s foreign policy chief would be up to his neck dealing with these crises. But in case you hadn’t heard, Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t paying much attention to any of that in the last few days. Instead, Kerry was shuttling back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah like a low-level functionary attempting to craft an agreement that would finally bring the Palestinians back to the Middle East peace talks they’ve been boycotting for four and a half years. But at the end of his fifth such effort since taking office in February, Kerry left the region empty-handed again having failed to convince the Palestinians to talk while claiming that he is getting closer to success. He says just a little more effort will put him over the top, so expect him to be back again in the near future hoping to finally achieve his long-sought photo opportunity–though there is little reason to believe such an event would actually bring the conflict closer to resolution.
But then, this morning’s New York Times brings us this piece of analysis from Mark Landler and Judi Rudoren. Perhaps it will sound vaguely familiar. Surely, it is correct:
In Damascus, the Syrian government’s forces are digging in against rebels in a bloody civil war that is swiftly approaching the grim milestone of 100,000 dead. In Cairo, an angry tide of protesters again threatens an Egyptian president.
At the same time, in tranquil Tel Aviv, Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a busy round of shuttle diplomacy, laboring to revive a three-decade-old attempt at peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. He insisted on Sunday that he had made “real progress.”
The new secretary of state’s exertions — reminiscent of predecessors like Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III — have been met with the usual mix of hope and skepticism. But with so much of the Middle East still convulsing from the effects of the Arab Spring, Mr. Kerry’s efforts raise questions about the Obama administration’s priorities at a time of renewed regional unrest.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once a stark symbol and source of grievance in the Arab world, is now almost a sideshow in a Middle East consumed by sectarian strife, economic misery and, in Egypt, a democratically elected leader fighting for legitimacy with many of his people.
Administration officials no longer argue, as they did early in President Obama’s first term, that ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state is the key to improving the standing of the United States in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now just one headache among a multitude.
And yet Mr. Kerry, backed by Mr. Obama, still believes that tackling the problem is worth the effort: five visits to the region in the last three months. The most recent trip involved nearly 20 hours of talks, stretching almost until dawn, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
One is slightly surprised to see Commentary and the New York Times on the same page, but perhaps we should just be thankful for little things.
Both have noticed, because it’s impossible not to notice, that John Kerry is living in an alternate universe where people still believe that the way to solve all of the world’s problems is to negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.
All the while, the Middle East burns.
One cannot help but second Barry Rubin’s analysis. The Arab Spring has been the major foreign policy challenge of the Obama administration. In particular, Obama chose Cairo for a major speech in 2009 where he laid down his foreign policy markers.
As of today, the Obama reset has been such a colossal failure that it is impossible to ignore the fact.
Let us remember that four years ago Obama gave his Cairo speech sitting the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the front row. President Husni Mubarak was insulted and it was the first hint that the Obama Administration would support Islamist regimes in the Arab world. Then Obama vetoed the State Department plan for a continuation of the old regime without Mubarak. Then Obama publicly announced–before anyone asked him–that the United States would not mind if the Brotherhood was in government. Then Obama did not give disproportionate help to the moderates. Then Obama pressed the army to get out of power quickly, which the moderates opposed since they needed more time than the Islamists to organize.
Many will say that the president of the United States cannot of course control events in Egypt. That’s true.’ But he did everything possible to lead to this crisis.