Let’s not forget that President Bush, and Condi Rice, also went to the Middle East and made lofty speeches about freedom and about how the U.S. was not in conflict with Islam. It was not the rhetoric that failed them; it was the disconnect between the rhetoric and the policies.(...) What he says in Cairo will make little difference to the way he’s perceived in the Arab world and beyond; he’ll be judged by what he does. Tony Karon
Speaking about a policy of pursuing a war against extremism and working towards two states for peoples on Palestinian lands is no different from the policy of his predecessor, George W Bush. Ayman Taha, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza strip - BBC
Arabs are waiting for pressure to be exerted on Israel so it can stop its violations in Gaza and the West Bank. Iraqi government spokesman - BBC
“The United States is in a weaker position now,” said Omar Amiralai, a well-known 65-year-old Syrian film maker. “They are stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan and don’t know how to get out. Bush, after the Iraq war, had some ability to pressure Sharon on Israeli settlements, but I don’t see that the United States has the ability to impose its law or desires on Israel now.” New York Times
What is the Obama administration's objective in the Middle East?
I ask the question because the stated objective, the Palestinian state, if it ever gets off the ground, will be nothing more than a huge concentration camp with no sovereignty over its borders or air space, with the most trusted inmates being allowed to run the day to day affairs of the prison, keep order among the prisoners, keep their jailers well informed of the other prisoner's doings and presumably to skim the cream off the "state's" budget for their pains.
This, of course is essentially repackaged Rice/Bush.
On assessing the timing of Obama's Cairo speech, one essential thing to remember is that on Sunday Lebanon will be holding elections, which very well may be won by Iran-backed Hezbollah. Any large advance for Hezbollah will be true "game changer" in the Middle East and signal a major failure of US policy in Syria and Lebanon. The Cairo speech and the massive media coverage it will get in the region should be seen in this context and are directly connected to offsetting that.
This brings us to an essential problem that the USA has had in the Middle East for many years and which the arrival of Obama is not likely to change. The problem is that -- as Bush always maintained -- the people of the region, in fact, do thirst after democracy, but the rub is that whenever they are allowed to vote freely, they seem to vote for Islamist parties, which are hostile to the USA.
So in fact this ongoing democratic revolution which the neocons imagined would benefit the USA is, in fact benefiting Iran, whose regime, with all its faults, is infinitely more democratic than Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan or Kuwait and all the tiny oil sheikdoms, which are America's clients. Iran's policies toward Israel and the Palestinians are simply much more in tune with the feelings of the region's people. Adjusting to the inconvenience of democracy in an essentially colonial situation, is at the heart of the US's problems in the Middle East.
So, the "assalaamu alaykums", and quoting the Koran, combined with being seen to be putting some pressure on Netanyahu are basically just an exercise in playing for time; hoping to keep America's clients from being swept from power or especially the situation in Iraq from deteriorating too much, too fast, before the new administration has really found its feet
My assessment of the situation is that Obama, with his pressure on Israel to make what Ariel Sharon called, "painful concessions", and his Muslim-friendly rhetoric is trying to hang a fig-leaf on the authoritarian and unpopular American client regimes of the area: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Simply to buy them some time.
The danger is twofold: these regimes may be beyond salvation and the Israelis, specifically the settlers that Obama appears to want to evict are some of the most dangerous people in the world for an American president to pressure... and I don't mean politically, I mean physically. These are the spiritual descendants of Meir Kahane, Dr. Baruch Goldstein of the Abraham's Tomb massacre and Yigal Amir, Yitzak Rabin's assassin. Many of the most fanatic settlers are American citizens, men and women who can enter the United States with no restrictions whatsoever, who can blend perfectly in any American crowd and who are very familiarized with firearms. These people are as American as apple pie... or as the person who pulled the trigger on Dr. Tiller. So I must say that I think that Barack Obama is a very brave man.
Here we have the president of the USA putting his life on the line to create, what for all extents and purposes will, at worst, be a huge Palestinian concentration camp, or at best, a Palestinian Potemkin village. DS