Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

January 13, 2010

Rami Khouri on Obama’s first year

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 10:06 pm

It is nearly one year since Pres. Obama’s historic inauguration. But veteran Palestinian-Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri captured a sentiment that’s very common in the Middle East when he told our radio show “CNI: Jerusalem Calling” on January 7 that,

A year after his inauguration he hasn’t made much difference yet.

He has certainly changed the rhetoric of the United States. He has made a few policy moves that are different than what George Bush was doing.  But beyond the realm of rhetoric and a few limited moves he really hasn’t gotten into the substantive changes that one would have expected from what he was saying during the campaign and in the first couple of months of his presidency, when he was pushing very hard on the theme of change and a new way of diplomacy, etcetera.

But a year later, it seems that it’s more talk than action.

He continued,

There is still a little sense of ambiguity as to whether it is going to stay like this and what we see is what we get, or whether he’s holding back because he’s more preoccupied with other things. We really don’t know that yet…

There really is disappointment [in the Middle East], because he really raised expectations… He made moves that were substantive though narrow in their scope. But they were substantive, and they were from the first moment…

So he raised expectations really high. We have to assume that he was sincere. This is not a man who goes around just whimsically saying things. He must have been sincere…

Why he changed course, it’s not entirely clear. But we can tell some things. The Israelis, obviously, put their foot down, and he couldn’t budge them because of the pro-Israeli forces in the U.S. that threatened to make him into a one-term president if he goes too far.  He couldn’t get anything out of the Arabs, either.

Khouri noted that Obama had a lot of different things on his plate, including health care, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He concluded that,

There are a lot of different things on his plate. The reason why he didn’t push further [on Middle East peacemaking] we really don’t know yet. I think this is an issue that is still in the making, I don’t think we’ve seen the full Obama Mideast policy.

There was a lot of other insightful commentary from Khouri in the one-hour show, which I was hosting.  In it he discussed strategies that pro-justice campaigners in the U.S. could use to counter the still-powerful pro-Israel lobby, the campaign that the main lobbying group AIPAC mounted against the UN’s Goldstone Report, and the value of mounting a nationwide campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) that is aimed especially against institutions that support the Israeli occupation, the settlers, and the Apartheid Wall.

… Anyway, if you go to the show’s archives page there, and scroll down, you can listen to all four segments of the discussion that I– and our callers from around the country– had with Khouri on the show.

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5 Comments »

  1. Obama’s first year?

    U.S.-Israeli arms cooperation quietly growing

    Comment by Salah — January 13, 2010 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

  2. powerful pro-Israel lobby

    U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel

    Israel wary of U.S.-Arab arms deals

    Comment by Salah — January 13, 2010 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  3. He called for – and got – a settlement freeze. That’s a first.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 14, 2010 @ 12:12 am | Reply

  4. The power of the Zionist lobby really comes from the belief that they can defeat any candidate they concentrate on. They may not be able to get the candidate of their choice elected, but, like the NRA, they can get a candidate they really oppose defeated. This scares the hell out of elected officials, especially congressmen – who might otherwise have to get a real job – but also senators who remember Chuck Percy from Illinois who made the fatal mistake of not kowtowing to the Lobby. At this time there are very few congress people who have the cajones to oppose the lobby. Perhaps this will change and congresspeople become more responsive to their constituents who are becoming increasingly more aware (although this is far from the top issue for most Americans).

    Comment by Jack — January 14, 2010 @ 12:48 am | Reply

  5. ‘How Much Bush Is There in Obama?’

    Comment by Salah — January 15, 2010 @ 12:34 am | Reply


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