Obama’s long flight to nowhere
In his first term Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It is unfortunate that at the start of his second term, he appears unwilling to earn such a prestigious award
Air Force One touched down in Tel Aviv today following a 6,000-mile flight from Andrews Air Force Base, bearing America’s most pampered tourist. Israel closed its airspace for his arrival and maintained this lock-down while he took a ride in Marine One to Jerusalem, providing Obama with the sort of visual appreciation of Israel that few tourists will ever experience.
During his arrival and hop to the nation’s capital, Obama will probably have appreciated the physical scale of the nation, dwarfed by most, if not quite all, of America’s 50 individual states. He may have taken a moment to wonder at the events and tribulations that have transpired on the land beneath him as he sailed serenely through its skies.
Travelling in his security bubble was likely to be the one opportunity he gets to really see the land and appreciate its precarious position. He will certainly be reminded of this in talks with Israeli leaders in the coming hours, for that is the duration that this trip can be measured in.
It’s worth noting that the advance staff at the White House either has a macabre sense of history or else none whatsoever. They have chosen to take over the King David Hotel for the president’s duration. It is not a location that bodes well for visiting members of an unloved foreign power.
On his long flight, Obama may have been advised to watch The Gatekeepers, the Oscar-nominated documentary featuring 6 former leaders of Israeli security service Shin Bet, who speak candidly and openly about the failings that have impeded the quest for peace. During the flight, Obama will no doubt have given thought to his imminent meeting with Netanyahu and how the two of them will deal with one another in the coming years.
This will be the tenth meeting between the two men and despite the lack of chemistry no leader has met Obama more. Since both have newly minted mandates, they will doubtless both claim to be in the right, which may get both of them nowhere.
The White House has announced that the American entourage are arriving in the Holy Land in ‘listening mode.’ This is an inauspicious announcement with an inauspicious precedent. Twenty years ago, America’s least memorable Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, marked his first trip to Europe with the same tepid line. It does not inspire confidence or any sense of leadership, quite the opposite in fact.
This approach has led to a peculiar position for Obama. Machiavelli questioned whether a leader should be loved or feared. Right now, Obama is neither and his leverage will only decrease as time passes. The 2014 midterms are a little over 18 months away and after that all eyes turn to the presidential race of 2016. Obama, therefore, has only a short time to act before his transformation to a lame duck is complete.
For this trip to have been capable of achieving anything, a great deal of legwork would have already have been done by dignitaries, diplomats and officials. They would have prepared plans for the two leaders to finalise and agree terms upon. This has not been done.
Indeed, the Obama White House appears to be turning diplomacy on its head by having the president visit ahead of a return trip by Secretary of State Kerry. This is not how successful diplomacy or international negotiations have traditionally succeeded; it demonstrates a lack of commitment by the administration to securing a long term solution in the region.
Having believed he could personally deliver a solution in his first year in office, it appears that Obama is now merely paying lip service to the idea of a solution. His trip to Israel allows him to tick the country off his list and claim that he has continued the recent history of American presidents making the journey, all to little effect other than that of symbolism, which has as much to do with domestic constituents, as it has to do with international relations.
In his first term Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It is unfortunate that at the start of his second term, he appears unwilling to earn such a prestigious award.
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