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President Obama Outlines Goals For Middle East

Audio

Aired 5/20/11

How will U.S. policies in the Middle East change in response to the recent uprisings in the region and the killing of Osama bin Laden? We analyze the president's recent speech, and discuss the affect the U.S. could have on the long-term future of the Middle East and North Africa.

President Obama addresses the nation from the White House to announce that Osama Bin Laden is dead, on May 1, 2011.
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Above: President Obama addresses the nation from the White House to announce that Osama Bin Laden is dead, on May 1, 2011.

How will U.S. policies in the Middle East change in response to the recent uprisings in the region and the killing of Osama bin Laden? We analyze the president's recent speech, and discuss the affect the U.S. could have on the long-term future of the Middle East and North Africa.

Guests

John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint.

Michael Smolens, government editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune

Alisa Joyce Barba, assignment editor for the KPBS Fronteras Desk

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

TOM FUDGE: We begin by talking about Barack Obama's address in the Middle East. Pres. Obama yesterday told US residence in the world that we will see a new chapter in American diplomacy as it relates to the Arab and Middle East. Residence in Egypt and Tunisia have succeeded in ousting to Arab dictators and the Populist movement has slipped into Yemen and Syria and Libya. The response of the Obama administration has been experts and people wonder why the president didn't show more support for pro-democracy protesters in Egypt. Yesterday the president try to set the record straight saying those seek reform have the full support of the US. The Pres. also gave his full support to a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on Israel's 1967 borders. Obama begins the process of putting their rhetoric to work today as he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Listeners if you have if you have any comment about the subject of course you can call us at 888-895-5727 and John Warren going to start with you talking about Pres. Obama speech. What would you say were the key points, what jumped out at you?

JOHN WARREN: What I think is the first key point is that he spoke directly about their region. You can immediately enjoy cited countries and he did so technology or if you consider directly there are different American interests in different places so I think that's important. He also made a speech that made an awareness of the fact that many people in America are concerned about is jumping into additional conflicts. He's trying to get out of Afghanistan. We've come out of Iraq. So when he talks now he talks in terms of helping countries based on what he sees happening within the countries. He was very specific, for instance in the case of Egypt he talked about $1 billion debt forgiveness and additional monies going in, 1 million in terms of helping them, not welfare, but in terms of an investment approach. So that was a good piece for each degree of relationship in terms of Egypt in terms of military investments but at the same time we do not want to be in the position of trying to run Egypt. He had to deal with Bahrain because people are concerned and that is the base for our fifth naval fleet. So we can just walk away, but he made it clear that there are some issues that must be addressed there because there is a conflict between the ruling family you know, being Shiite I believe, I think they are setting---

TOM FUDGE: They are Sunni

(inaudible)

JOHN WARREN: No, the Sunni is the ruling family, the majority are Shiites, and that is where the conflict is because the majority wants to change which would oust the ruling family. So there are issues there but most people were hanging on their seat to see what he would say about Syria. He spoke about Syria in terms of a change must come. The president would lead or get out of the way. The problem came when we got to the whole issue of Israel and Palestinian conflict. He said yes there should be two state solution deprecating go far enough for the Palestinians because they wanted him to embrace a UN resolution moving them toward unilateral statehood. He alienated the Israelis when he went so far as to say that the discussion should start rolling back the land gains from the 1967 war. And Netanyahu yesterday before he left was clear and they (inaudible) and they reject the component. He took a position he didn't leave everyone happy. He's got additional problems with the Jewish community. He reaffirmed a commitment to Israel so here's where we are. It is a lot rolled in there, a lot taking place.

TOM FUDGE: And Alisa why don't you jump in and give us your reaction to the speech?

ALISA JOYCE BARBA: My sense is that it's vintage Obama trying to have it both ways. He's trying to appease critics who say he hasn't gone far enough to support the populist uprisings in the Middle East. At the same time he wants to maintain strong alliances with the people he needs Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Obviously he needs to support Israel. Israel is a huge force in American politics and he is walking a very fine line here as he put it alienating a lot of Israelis, alienating Netanyahu who's going to be in Washington and angeing and I think a lot of American supporters, Jewish-American supporters in Israel with his pressure on that country. I think from a liberal point of view he is not going far enough in supporting many of the Palestinians. So I think it's vintage Obama in terms of its political appeal.

TOM FUDGE: NPR had a nice sort of collection of opinions from the Arab Middle East on his speech and most people sounded disappointed. It was my impression. Michael Smolens, why don't you tell us what you think.

MICHAEL SMOLENS: They often say the way to compromises is you will leave both sides unhappy. Don't know if that will lead to a compromise in this case it's been going on for lifetimes, but what is interesting to me I look at it from the political prism, Netanyahu and many in Israel and Israel's supporters are unhappy with this but they really need the US. We don't about the UN resolution, the (inaudible) resolution that is being considered in September and believe for a Palestinian state. Israel cannot have that and they have really only the US to try to thwart. Does that give the president some leverage with the Israelis on this and let's also keep in mind we talk about the 1967 borders, he clearly talked about within the land swap to allow it, I believe he is saying for some of the development already there, is there to move I don't know, I don't personally believe we've been seeing decades indicates the exact situation where will he see any change basic to dynamic with the UN resolution vote coming up as a different kind of thing where they alienate, he may have alienated Israel to a certain degree. They are going to need him and maybe there is some room to move there.

TOM FUDGE: Lisa then John.

ALISA JOYCE BARBA: I think the move in September is a good leverage point Obama said in his speech that essentially the US would not support the Palestinians on that vote but the crucial thing from the Israeli point of view is where will the European countries come down and there's a lot of indications that they may actually be favoring a vote in favor of Palestinian statehood which would really be quite cataclysmic from the Israeli point of view. So I think Netanyahu needs Obama to apply pressure to the Europeans to stay on the US side and that is kind of where the leverage point is.

JOHN WARREN: But I don't see Obama doing it because one of the things he said that bothers the Palestinians as he was firm on the fact that we can have a negotiation where one side denies the right of the other to exist and the Palestinians are still struggling about denying the right of Israel to exist as Israel feels about giving back land---

MICHAEL SMOLENS: Not all the Palestinians, Fatah didn't take (inaudible)---

JOHN WARREN: Fatah doesn't take a position and Fatah is no longer in power, Hamas is in control and Hamas is her but thought I'd put America in conflict because American resolutions in the past have identified Hamas as a terrorist organization so I'm doing at work negotiate with a terrorist organization is working in a majority posture with a minority element. It's complicated.

ALISA JOYCE BARBA: You've just got to love the Middle East, man, it doesn't get any better than that.

TOM FUDGE: Barack Obama expressed some frustration and he sounded sincere that said we are all looking at this and nothing happens. Of course we are asking ourselves the question can he actually take the rhetoric and make something happen and did we get any impression from him or a better impression from what should be the relevant US in all of this?

JOHN WARREN: It's not his responsibility to make something happen is the first thing we need to make clear. Everyone's talking as if he's been putting put in some kingmaker's seat to make it happen. That is not our responsibility. If Israel is concerned they want to stay out of the discussion, Israel is a nuclear power let's look at why we are in a relationship with them. They are a nuclear power in the Middle East where we do not want Iran to become a nuclear power and we've already got problems with Pakistan and India having their weapons. So it's not a simple matter of him speaking to---

ALISA JOYCE BARBA: However we got into the position, the US has been a kingmaker and the statemaker and the dealmaker especially with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for decades now and it has always been about what role is the US going to play, how big a role are they going to play. We always seem to take the blame when there's a fall through in the negotiations and it's as if we are the parent and these are our kids fighting and it is our fault.

TOM FUDGE: You're listening to the Editors Roundtable. I'm Tom Fudge filling in for Gloria Penner. My guests are Alisa Barba from the Fronteras desk. Tom Warren, and Michael Smolens from the San Diego Union Tribune. We've got Ron on the line, so we are going to take a couple calls here. Ron, go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks for taking my call. It seems to me and to the terms of the UN treaty members are forbidden to expand their countries through military force. And that is the basis for resolution 242 where they wanted Israel to return to those borders. So it seems to me if Israel doesn't want to return to the borders, they should quit the UN.

TOM FUDGE: That Israel should quit the UN?

NEW SPEAKER: If they don't want to uphold the rules, they've expanded their territory through military action that is a violation of the treaty.

TOM FUDGE: Okay, Ron. Thanks very much. Let's take another quick one. Edgar is calling from San Diego. Let's hear what he has to say go ahead, Edgar.

NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for taking my call. It kind of shocked at some of the editor saying that how Palestine needs to recognize the existence of Israel. Israel is a fact already, Israel has been a fact for the last 63 years. There hasn't been one Israeli Prime Minister however or Israeli government that has been able to recognize the existence of a future Palestinian state. So I think the Palestinians are in a bad position of the negotiation, weaker position, but I think the Palestinians need a state now. It's been 63 years or 30 some years of occupation is enough.

TOM FUDGE: Thanks you very much. Who wants to respond to that? John Warren.

JOHN WARREN: To the second caller first, he's got to understand that the Palestinians are saying that Israel does not have a right to exist. Now, if I'm Hamas, and I thought to get together and Benjamin Netanyahu, and they make an agreement to do these things than their governments will all collapse in terms of structure because the people around me standing behind the leaders to the extent that the leaders of the defenses they are looking for and let's not forget what happened with the last land swap we did as the Israelis moved out of the settlements they moved in missiles on the Palestinian side, they begin to kill more people. As they withdraw, they destroy property. Let's look at go back and review what happened in the Six-Day War. The problem with America is we want to react to public policy without anyone doing their homework. We need to look at what happened and why they might understand the arguments beyond sound bites.

TOM FUDGE: Alisa you want to respond to what Tom said or any of the callers?

ALISA JOYCE BARBA: What Netanyahu said is returning to the 1967 borders is indefensible and literally he means Israel cannot defend itself with a return to the borders.

TOM FUDGE: (INAUDIBLE)

ALISA JOYCE BARBA: It is a negotiating stance. As John said Netanyahu has to stand up to his own, he has to show his own political constituency that he's defending Israel and being strong and so he has to report to that. So it is a negotiating stance. I think we have to see where it goes from here.

TOM FUDGE: Well, what I think we will move on after our break to another subject and you're listening to the Editors Roundtable. I'm Tom fudge. When we come back we will talk about Gov. Jerry Brown's revised state budget and the many difficulties he's having. And speaking of difficulties, what about Arnold Schwarzenegger's legacy? He fell into scandal this week. What does that mean? So stay with us. We will be back in a minute.

Comments

Avatar for user 'syberspot'

syberspot | May 20, 2011 at 9:21 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Assuming Israel did go back to the 67 boarders, can they get a guarantee that there will be peace or will there be a constant demand for more concessions no matter how much they give up?

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Avatar for user 'ehopida'

ehopida | May 20, 2011 at 9:23 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

It is interesting that John Warren mentioned Gaza and how they did a supposed land swap. A little history lesson and facts on the ground from human rights organizations. Yes they removed settlements but the Israeli government continues to control all the borders, including airspace and coastline. Btselem wrote a report called One Big Prison which shows how constricted Gaza is.

1967 borders indefensible? Isn't Israel the 4th most powerful military in the world? International law is pretty clear...Israel is occupying land that is not recognized as theirs.

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Avatar for user 'ehopida'

ehopida | May 20, 2011 at 9:25 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Syber - Palestinians and the rest of the international community want an end to the occupation. It is not a question of should Israel do consessions, if we are to take international law seriously, they are obliged to leave the territory.

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Avatar for user 'syberspot'

syberspot | May 20, 2011 at 9:51 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Ehopida - I don't think anyone takes international law serious. Not even the UN. They've alienated Israel too many times to have any sway there:
http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1330819&ct=4566483

But regardless, when a reliable force to prevent rocket attacks against Israel is found (note I say reliable which rules out Hamas which has failed to do so even during the cease fire and it rules out U.N. peacekeepers which would pull out as soon as the militants politely requested it) then you will have removed Israel's only legitimate reason to be in those territories.

I'm not saying either side is in the right. But there's an issue that needs to be addressed. The way I see it, Israel will refuse to pull out unless there's some way to guarantee that rocket attacks will stop. It's a tragic self reinforcing situation: Israel gets rocketed, politics there swings towards defense issues, crackdowns occur and inflame tensions, more rocket attacks happen. The cycle needs to be broken.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | May 20, 2011 at 9:56 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

The situation between Israelis and Palestinians is between the Israel and the Palestinians. We should leave them to handle their issues. On your segment today it was stated, "The U.S. has been a State-Maker and has a say." NONSENSE! We assume the role of State-Maker and look at our track record. You still have chaos in the Mid-East.

Our only concern there is because of the oil they provide us. We care so much about oil our Foreign Policy states if any Middle Eastern nation imposes an oil embargo against the U.S., that is an act of war. So now we're taking lessons from the Japanese, who attacked us for the oil embargo we imposed in 1941?

How would we like it if Israel and the Palestinians dictated to the U.S. our policies?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 20, 2011 at 11:33 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

@SYBERSPOT, you mean like the unreasonable demand of ending the economic blockade of Gaza?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 20, 2011 at 11:41 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

@SYBERSPORT, we sure don't. We assasinate fugitives in third party countries and we've already thumbed our nose more than once at the International Criminal Court in La Hague.

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Avatar for user 'ehopida'

ehopida | May 20, 2011 at 12:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

@ Syber They've alienated Israel because, Israel has in fact violated more security council resolutions than any other nation-state. Israel and US always claims bias from the UN when it suits them but invokes international law and security council resolutions on others. Its called hypocrisy. All we have to do is look at mainstream human rights orgs and they will say the same thing about Israeli treatment of the palestinians.

Try going from one town to another in West Bank. What naturally would take 20 minutes would take 2-6 hours due to checkpoints.

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Avatar for user 'rafaelcabrera'

rafaelcabrera | May 20, 2011 at 2:43 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

@syberspot

No.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 22, 2011 at 5:25 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

@EHOPIDA, those resolutions are supposedly "non-binding." But that doesn't excuse Israel from making "incursions" into Lebanon or strafing Syria--just like the Turks who used to persue Kurds into Northern Iraq and no one would lift a finger to complain.

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