It’s good to see statements like the following from Ben Smith in Politico about President Obama’s Middle East adventures becoming the conventional wisdom:
Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape.
The current state of play sums up the problem. Obama’s demand that the Israelis stop building settlements on the West Bank was met, at long last, by a temporary and partial freeze, but its brief renewal is now the subject of intensive negotiations.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence — a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.
The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and — increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.
Even those who still believe in the process that Obama has championed view his conduct as a deeply unfunny comedy of errors.
Smith shows that Obama has managed to lose not just the confidence of the Israeli government but also that of the dovish Kadima opposition party led by Tzipi Livni:
Livni scrupulously avoids criticizing Obama’s conduct of the peace talks, but those around her are blunter. “If Obama wanted to be a transformational figure, he would never have led with the settlements,” said Eyal Arad, the architect of Livni’s campaign for prime minister. He argues — like most Israelis — that Obama inadvertently got talks hung up on a matter of irrelevant principle, rather than engaging the reality that some settlements can stay while others must go.
“The settlements were pushed by a bunch of left-wingers who were out of sync with the realities and were out of government too long,” he said. “The irony is that Obama went directly back to the place where George Bush the father left off.”
Nor, according to Smith, do the Palestinians have much respect for Obama at this point. This isn’t surprising. Obama raised their hopes by taking an aggressive anti-settlement posture. In the process, he lost the trust of the Israelis, which almost ensures his inability to deliver anything much to the Palestinians.
Obama’s two defining characteristics — inexperience and adherence to leftwing dogma — are a dangerous combination in almost any context. They certainly have no useful place in the Middle East, where they have combined to make Obama an object of ridicule on both sides of the Israeli political divide and among Israel’s adversaries.