S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

None of them knew what to do

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, President-elect Barack Obama and President George W. Bush
all posed for a group picture in the Oval Office of the White House Wednesday. (White House photo by Eric Draper). It was a very momentous occasion, requested by President-elect Obama and hosted by our current president (OCP). First there was a private meeting at which reportedly, the old heads advised our new president-to-be on how he could avoid being caught in a White House bubble of group-think, and how a President Obama could make it more possible for his people to bring him bad news. At the end there was a dynamite photo-op for everyone, during which these distinguished gentlemen were discussing the current Oval Office rug.

In an escalating Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at the same time half way around the world, there were people working very hard to kill each other . The headlines had been very troubling for several days: The Raw Story: A Norwegian doctor reports that "Israel intentionally targeted civilians*" (1/5/09). McClatchy: "Airstrike kills 3 at Gaza school-UN*" (1/6/08). Informed Comment: "Israel/Gaza Cyberwar and parallels to Abu Ghraib*" (1/6/09). And recently, Informed Comment: "Something Horrible has been Discovered*" (1/7/09) Cole's post linked to The Telegraph/UK headline: "Gaza medics describe horror of strike which killed 70" (1/8/09).

Any talk of the Middle East? One could wonder whether the Oval Office occupants had anything to say in their meeting about how the United States has been forever unable to help generations of these determined combatants achieve a lasting peace. In turn each of these powerful "leaders of the free world" have been singularly unsuccessful as Middle East peacemakers. War-makers, yes; temporary agreements, yes; but peacemakers with permanence, no.

Madeleine Albright's book, "Madam Secretary" recounts a great deal about how hard former presidents have tried for peace. About Carter, elected in 1976, she said,

President Carter was one of our most intelligent chief executives and one who showed a fierce dedication to conflict prevention and individual human dignity both during and after his term in office. He was a proactive President who achieved much in foreign policy, including the historic Middle East Peace Accords at Camp David. . . . Politically, however he was unlucky.

About Bush 41, Albright observed, regarding her work in the Clinton administration in 1997,

People were worried about Saddam's weapons and asking what we were going to do. . . No serious consideration was given to actually invading Iraq. The senior President Bush had not invaded when given the chance with hundreds of thousands of troops already in the region during the Gulf War.

In Albright's Chronology of her diplomatic work are included these pertinent entries: 11/4/92 - Bill Clinton elected President. 6/26/93 - U.S. bombs Iraqi intelligence headquarters in retaliation for assassination attempt against former President George Bush. 9/13/93 - Israeli and Palestinian leaders sign Oslo Declaration of Principles. 1/23/97 - MKA sworn in as 64th secretary of state. 10/15/98 - Middle East talks result in Wye River Memorandum. 7/11-25/2000 - Middle East summit. 9/28/2000 - Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visits the Temple Mount/Haram alSharif, violence breaks out. January 2001 - Last efforts to negotiate Middle East settlement failed.

"More than meets the eye." Following shortly after that we saw the Republicans take over. For a time the Middle East appeared to be quiescent. It was not of great concern to George W. Bush, until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That tragic loss of American life set the U.S. on a path in the Middle East that largely ignored the unsolved conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Walls went up, Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas won an election, Ariel Sharon left the picture and tensions grew. The war in Lebanon happened. In all of these things the U.S. efforts were absent or made relatively little difference. All eyes have been on Afghanistan and mostly, Iraq.

President-elect Obama has promised to turn attention form Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And he is not talking much about Israel and Palestine, reminding that "we have one president at a time." At the end of last year an important article appeared on Steve Clemons' blog, The Washington Note: "Daniel Levy: What Next on Israel/Gaza? Why Should Americans Care?" (12/28/08). This brilliant thinker asked a number of important questions that should have prompted some actions or answers from the Republican administration or former Republican leaders or opinion makers.

But these are the stories that appeared. From at-Largely came this story, "John Bolton continues to have no clue but plenty of propaganda...*" (1/5/09). See also Think Progress: "Gaza Crisis Means We Should Attack Iran Now#" (1/1/09). And this appeared at ThinkProgress: "Perino: Ground Invasion Will Help ‘Create A More Stable And Secure Area’ For People Of Gaza*" (1/5/09). AlterNet asks my question: "Why Do So Few Speak Up for Gaza?*" (1/7/08). And now this Happy News -- AlterNet: "Israeli Militants Poised to Resettle Gaza After Assault*" (1/7/09).

I have not listened to the news today. Absolutely everything might have changed. It will not make any difference what the Bush administration does because, as Politico says: "Gaza reshuffles [the] Israeli political deck" (1/8/09) for Barack Obama. And none of his predecessors in the Oval Office can tell him what to do, because they do not know. None of them figured out the magic formula. Perhaps there is none. But one thing upon which you can count is that our new President will give it his best. He sees the world with very different eyes than the people in the picture, and that is a good thing.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo*" and Jon#.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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