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Tuesday 2 June 2009

Barry’s on a Demonstration

As Barack Obama sets off on his tour of the Middle East, he might be thought to distance himself from the Bush years. Well, yes and no. Because much of the substance of what Dubya would bring to a similar tour is still there – what Obama is doing differently is in the emphases and nuances. It makes fascinating reading. But it will not be to all parties’ tastes.

The BBC’s Justin Webb, who filed an interview with the Prez yesterday evening, has put his name to this item on the Beeb’s website, which covers much the same ground. Obama, for instance, still believes that democracy is a good thing for any country – as would Bush – but he describes it as an “ideal”, or ultimate goal. He is careful not to be seen pushing “Americanisation”, something that Alastair Campbell touched on in his blog recently, but rather is promoting the USA as a “role model” for others.

Moreover, he’s stressing the negotiation angle with Iran: there is no overt sabre rattling. So far, so promising, but what about Israel? Obama has not had an exactly rapturous response from veteran Israeli PM Binyamin Netenyahu to his call to stop settlement building in the West Bank, and he seems to suggest that he may be playing a long game on this. The Arab world is, as ever, watching how this unfolds: for Obama to take a firm and unequivocal line with Israel will go down well there.

The Israelis are, for now, in uncharted territory. They depend on the USA for much of their trade, and for weaponry as well as financial support. No other country can, or will, willingly step in and take over that role. The Republican Right, so ready to support whatever action Israel deems necessary against its neighbours, would be thought to be united in lobbying for its friends in the Middle East. But that same convocation of the Right has become distracted and disoriented by the Obama victory. As I observed recently, much of their energy is being expended on a thus far fruitless campaign to prove that Obama is not a legitimate president.

Also not helping the resistance of the Israelis to Obama’s line on settlement building is the inconvenient fact that most Jewish voters in the USA voted Democrat last time round. Merely because someone is a US citizen and Jewish does not guarantee support for Israel, but the correlation is strong. The implicit suggestion to Netenyahu is as clear to him as it will be unpalatable.

That is, the USA will keep you secure – but do as you’re told.

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