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Obama failed to seize the day (and spent his political capital)

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Obama must have wanted to make the Cairo speech for years–probably fantasized about it before he ran for president. But he lacked the courage to place, or keep around him, the people who could advance the change he spoke for; and he didn’t have the knowledge or resourcefulness to take the lead himself. Also, he didn’t have the energy, I suspect: an apparent unspoken fact about Obama is that (compared to Carter, Clinton, others) he has a delicate constitution and needs a lot of rest–has never been observed to thresh things out for hours and days a time among disagreeing parties, as both Carter and Clinton did. He leaves that work to others.

His failure to stand up to Netanyahu is the theme of pieces by Akiva Eldar and James Zogby. Akiva Eldar at Haaretz reminds us of the promises of Cairo ’09, now wasted:

The responsibility for not getting dragged away in the wave of fanaticism and anarchy falls on U.S. President Barack Obama. In June 2009, he pledged that “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” At the same time, he called for a total halt to settlement construction, which he said undermines peace efforts. Twenty months later, in his State of the Union address last week, Obama didn’t mention the Palestinians or even imply anything about them, while his representatives in the United Nations are working on holding off a proposal to condemn Israel over continued unrestrained construction in the settlements.

The only thing left is to hope that Obama learned something from what’s going on in Egypt and will not wait until the territories are aflame before muttering something about the need for confidence-building steps.

At Huffo, James Zogby says  much the same thing– Obama’s inability to turn away from the failed policies of the Bush administration. The peace process, he says, is finished, and Obama’s political capital is spent:

It is not so much that there is anything new in the leaked documents — despite al Jazeera’s hype. Most of the compromises offered, or the behaviors or attitudes manifested, have been known for years. Nor does the release of these inter-office Palestinian memos represent “the final nail in the coffin of the peace process,” as some have suggested. That nail was driven in months ago. What these documents do shine a light on, however, is the belief that the Palestinian leadership is “out of touch” with their constituency and a bit too desperate in their dealings with the U.S. and Israel. They also make clear the degree to which the U.S. has been insensitive to Palestinian needs and impotent in the face of Israeli intransigence.

The bottom line here is that the complexities of these multiple challenges and the uncertainties associated with each of them have placed a real burden on an already weakened Obama Administration. Two years ago they came into office generating high expectations throughout the Middle East. But during the past two years U.S. policies vis-a-vis a range of regional issues (Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, etc) have appeared more a continuation of the failed past than hoped for change. As a result, today the Administration appears exhausted, distracted and flat, creating a massive let-down across the Arab World.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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