Something about Obama’s foreign-policy speeches has always seemed unreal to me. I could never quite put my finger on what it was, until now. His recent speeches on the Arab-Israeli conflict were not so much statements of policy as grand pontifications about the goals of U.S. policy. He is not so much disconnected from reality as unconstrained by it.
We all know where we want to end up in the peace process — what we pay the president for is to devise a strategy for getting us there. It could hardly be clearer that he has none. And in the meantime, he is presiding over a major unraveling of America’s position of influence in the region, with potentially disastrous consequences for everybody.
That edifice Kissinger worked so hard to lay the foundations for in the 1970s, which American presidents since have worked hard to maintain, is eroding like a sand castle in the tide. The Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt were the essential prerequisite for eliminating the prospect of another war between Israel and any of the Arab states. The essential prerequisite for the Camp David Accords, in turn, was convincing both Israel and Egypt that America was the best guarantor of their aspirations.
Obama is unwittingly throwing that advantage away, as rapidly as he can. His reference to the borders of 1967, while mostly irrelevant given the qualification about mutually agreed swaps of territory, thus bore a bitter irony: The situation in the Middle East is actually starting to resemble that of early 1967 more than in any decade since.
The new Egyptian government’s decision to befriend Hamas and open the border with Gaza is a historic and potentially catastrophic development. Almost immediately, it compelled Mahmoud Abbas to cave in to Hamas and agree to a unity government with Israel’s most deadly and implacable enemy. At no point since the Oslo peace process began in the early 1990s have there been so few of the essential strategic prerequisites for a peace settlement. That Obama doesn’t yet understand this may be seen in the fact that his major response to Egypt’s opening of the Gaza border was to reward it with a massive grant of debt forgiveness.
If the government of Turkey had helped push Mubarak out of power and rewarded the pro-Hamas stance of his successor while shielding Bashar Assad in Syria from revolution, you would have to say that Turkey had assumed a posture hostile to the United States. Yet that is the very policy that Obama has seen fit to embrace, to the extent he has any policy at all. It is, really, unbelievable.
The change in Egypt’s position creates a disastrous logic of confrontation with Israel. Unconstrained by any control of the Egypt-Gaza border, Hamas gains a kind of strategic depth, and can much better afford to provoke Israel with continued missile attacks. Even the “moderate” former IAEA director general and current presidential candidate Mohamed el-Baradei has promised to declare war on Israel if it attacks Gaza again. This in effect would give Hamas a finger on the trigger of war between Egypt and Israel. It is not hard to appreciate how much more volatile the situation is becoming.