Is There an Obama Effect?

Gershom Gorenberg

Is this all coincidence? Or is part of what’s been happening in the Middle East for the past two weeks a result of the U.S. president declaring that the conflict of civilizations is over? My new article in The American Prospect examines the evidence.

Barack Obama spoke in Cairo two weeks ago. The Middle East has been roiling since. The street scenes in Iran have pushed the surprise pro-Western victory in Lebanon’s elections out of the headlines, along with Benjamin Netanyahu’s pained, precondition-crippled acceptance of a two-state solution and the enraged Palestinian response. Two top Israeli intelligence figures scaling down the Iranian nuclear threat from looming Holocaust to mid-range risk — a major story for a calm week — has gone almost unnoticed.

So did Obama set this off, or was he like the king in The Little Prince who ordered the sun to rise at the precise moment when it would have done so anyway? With that come two more questions: Will the crisis in Iran shake up the region even more? And what should Obama do in response?

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Principle vs. Love and Devotion in Israel’s Prisoner Exchange

Haim Watzman

In principle, I oppose uneven prisoner exchanges, but that’s not why I wasn’t able to watch the television coverage of Wednesday’s exchange of Lebanese terrorists for dead Israeli soldiers. My wife had the television on but I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t have a way of dealing with my conflicting emotions and fears; my anger and frustration; my agony.

Neither did I have stomach for writing about it that day here, or for participating in the debate over the deal (see, for example, themiddle, Esther, and grandmufti over at Jewlicious, and so many others in the Israeli and Zionist papers and blogs).

When Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were dragged off by Hezbollah guerrillas two summers ago—at that time we had to presume they were still alive when taken prisoner—these two reservists could have been me or any of my friends. During my years of reserve duty, I conducted innumerable border patrols of this sort. I know how easy it is to fall into false security, to assume, on the last day before you head home, that all is quiet and nothing can happen. I identified completely with the anger and frustration of their fellow-reservists, who wanted to fight to get their friends back.

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Update: Bush and Lebanon; Obama, Israel and Islam

  • As I mentioned earlier , the Bush administration’s obstruction of peace talks between Israel and Syria has helped Hezbollah and Iran push for control of Lebanon. My new piece on the subject is now up at the American Prospect :

    The time, according to Hilal Khashan, was ten minutes past the ceasefire. That was another way of saying ten minutes after another Hezbollah victory, Khashan explained. I phoned Khashan — head of the political science department at Beirut’s American University — several days into Lebanon’s latest armed upheaval. He spoke in a strangely dispassionate tone I’ve heard before in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the voice of a man taking refuge from chaos in careful analysis.

    So far, Khashan said on Sunday night, the crisis that erupted last week has yielded “a major achievement” for Hezbollah. Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, has extended its influence in Lebanon. The obvious loser is the pro-Western government of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. From Beirut, U.S. support appears to be a phantom; Bush unwilling or incapable of supporting its Lebanese allies.

    From the slightly greater distance of Jerusalem, I’d add,

    Read moreUpdate: Bush and Lebanon; Obama, Israel and Islam

Obama. What’s Complicated Here?

Gershom Gorenberg

Dan Kurtzer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and an Orthodox Jew, is in Jerusalem for the 60th anniversary celebrations. This morning my wife heard him being interviewed on Israeli Radio, in Hebrew, about the U.S. election. Kurtzer explained that he’s backing Barack Obama.

This was not exactly a revelation. Kurtzer has explained his reasons for backing Obama at length . Here’s some key snippets:

…we have had eight years of disaster with respect to our foreign policy, and I have to share with you as an analyst, we have had eight years that have [compromised] the security of the state of Israel.
An administration that has ignored the search for peace in the Middle East to a point where you have chaos in the Palestinian Authority, and you have a sham process called the Annapolis process, in which our Secretary of State, whom I admire personally, travels to region and announces when she gets there that she is bringing no new ideas.
You have an administration that hasn’t engaged in the peace process, and so inherited a bad situation in 2001 and is leaving it in a worse situation in 2008. And you have an administration that has gotten us engaged in a war in Iraq that has not only cost American lives… but it’s now being called the $3 trillion war…And I would share with you that the cost to the security of Israel is incalculable.

Read moreObama. What’s Complicated Here?