The Blog

Lieberman Responds to Obama on Middle East

12:03 PM, May 20, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman has issued the following statement in response to President Obama's Middle East address yesterday:

Joe Lieberman

“President Obama delivered an eloquent and important speech yesterday that rightly aligned the United States with the winds of democratic change that are blowing across the Middle East. In his unequivocal support for the right of people everywhere to choose their leaders for themselves, President Obama evoked the best bipartisan, values-based foreign policy tradition that unites great Democratic presidents like Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton, with Republican counterparts like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. I also strongly support the economic measures the President announced to support the democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, including the establishment of enterprise funds and the extension of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to the Middle East and North Africa.

“I am also grateful that the President at last spoke out about the campaign of murder and repression by Bashar al Assad in Syria. This was the first time the President personally addressed the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria since the uprising there began nearly two months ago. I hope the President in the days ahead continues to speak out about Syria and makes clear that it is time for Assad to go. I regret that he did not seize the opportunity to do so yesterday. 

“Unfortunately, President Obama's important and constructive speech embracing and supporting the peaceful, democratic revolutions in the Arab world was also undermined by an unhelpful and surprising set of remarks about Israel and the Palestinians that will not advance the peace process and in fact is likely to set it back.

“While the President made some strong statements about the "unshakeable" support for Israel's security and rightly criticized the Palestinian pursuit of a symbolic statehood declaration at the UN in September, his unilateral call for negotiations on  the basis of the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps -- the first time any president has adopted this position -- was profoundly ill-advised. As in the case of the President's counterproductive demand for a settlement freeze two years ago, unilateral statements of this sort do nothing to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table and in fact make it harder for them to do so. They also damage the relationship of trust that is critical to peacemaking.

“In particular, the President's remarks have revived and exacerbated fears in Israel about the commitment and understanding of this Administration with regard to their unique security situation. The fact is, while the exciting and hopeful new reality in the Arab world is the Arab spring, the newest reality in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not hopeful. It is the threatening new unity government between the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, a group which the U.S. government has long designated as terrorist because it is committed to violence and the destruction of Israel.

“In the days ahead, I hope President Obama will make clear Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas unity government until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions. I also hope that the President will make clear that his Administration recognizes the 1967 borders themselves are no longer an acceptable endpoint for negotiations because they do not allow Israel to defend itself, and that any peace agreement must reflect new realities on the ground, including the major new Israeli communities that have grown up since 1967, and the need for an extended presence by the IDF in the Jordan River Valley.

“In the past few months, the forces of freedom and self-determination have begun to move inexorably through the region. It is in that movement where we can find the greatest hope for peace between neighbors in the region, including Israelis and Palestinians.”

Tom Donnelly at AEI agrees that Obama has accepted the freedom agenda in the Middle East:

It can’t be said too often, but should be said with deep humility: President Obama’s Middle East policy speech transformed the fundamental insight of the Bush Doctrine—that American power must be a force for liberty rather than “stability” in the region—into a bipartisan and enduring principle of American strategy that will not be easily undone.

Nor is it gloating to observe that this reflects a maturation of Obama’s views. Beyond their long-standing reflexive anti-Bush stance (still persistent but, if the speech was any indicator, perhaps fading), administration officials often made what appeared to be, at first blush, a coherent strategic argument: the Middle East was a sideshow and diversion from the emerging great-power competition of the 21st century and the challenge of China. If the president’s speech means anything, it means that he has rejected this China-first approach to strategy. The growth of political liberty across the region is “not a secondary interest,” the president asserted. “Today I am making it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.”

This is also an admission that, though he has confirmed the new direction for U.S. strategy in the region, there is much to do to plot the course and guide the ship. As my boss, Dany Pletka, and former NSC director for the Middle EastMichael Singh both pointed out this morning, there are a number of thorny questions still to resolve, and simply taking them one at a time probably won’t work.

Whole thing here.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers