Obama sets himself up for failure as unilateral 'peacemaker'

Amir Taheri:

PRESIDENT Obama spent his first week in office dismantling a number of Bush policies.

Demanding reports on a faster Iraq withdrawal or closing Gitmo amount to no more than political sleight of hand. But Obama's actions on the Middle East may substantially alter US strategy.

The first such move is the appointment of ex-Sen. George Mitchell as special Middle East peace envoy, a position he held briefly in 2000.

The move has two notable implications.

First: The new president isn't interested in the so-called Quartet created by the Bush administration. This exercise in multilateral diplomacy sought a common front among the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia in Mideast peace talks. Its dismantling would give America greater control over future negotiations - but would also leave it solely responsible for any failure.

Second: By appointing Mitchell without informing (let alone consulting) the Quartet partners, Obama has in effect called for the resignation of the Quartet's peace envoy, British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Obama clearly thinks that he can succeed in finding a solution to the Arab-Israel problem, where 10 presidents before him have failed over six decades.

Obama's second move is to appoint a special envoy to Iran. Said to be Dennis Ross, a seasoned diplomat, the envoy would open a channel to Tehran as soon as possible.

Some Obama advisers had argued that it would be better to wait until after the Iranian presidential election in June, in hopes that someone less controversial than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might emerge as their key interlocutor. But Obama dismissed that advice, partly out of concern that Tehran might use delay to speed up its nuclear program.

Unconfirmed reports say that the first informal contacts have already taken place, via two Iranian-American intermediaries in contact with Tehran's UN legation in New York.

Here, too, Obama is dismantling his predecessor's multilateral scheme. By seeking unconditional talks with Tehran, he is also setting aside three unanimous, mandatory UN Security Council resolutions.

The move also means the effective dissolution of the "5+1 Group," created three years ago to deal with Iran. Apart from America, the group includes Russia, China, Britain and France (the four other veto-holding Security Council members), plus Germany.


This is consistent with the arrogance that marks Democrats' beliefs in their skills at diplomacy. Obama thinks he can talk religious bigots out of being bigots and out of goals that are immersed in that bigotry.

It is interesting that the French President is more realistic about dealing with Ahmadinejad than Obama is. Sarkozy has said he would not shake hands with someone who denies the holocaust.


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