Obama so far – mixed reviews

>Sorry I haven’t posted in a while — I’ve been mesmerized by the Obama phenomenon, waiting and watching, holding my breath — like a huge number of Americans, I think.

I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed by some of Obama’s cabinet picks, but enthusiastic about most of his initial actions in office. I love it that he made dramatic moves right away on Guantanamo, government transparency, shutting down the lobbyist revolving door syndrome, re-elevating the role of science, etc. etc.

I was very impressed, too, with his interview on Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based network. Giving his first formal television interview as president to an Arabic cable TV network shows he means business in working toward peace in the middle east, and that he’s not afraid — neither of them, nor the reactionary right-wing in the U.S. that will surely accuse him of all manner of treason for doing such a thing. (How dare he talk to them furriners!)

The interview was a grand gesture toward the entire Muslim world, and he presented himself as a bridge between the West and the East, appealing to the majority of moderate Muslims. His solid performance could be a substantial first step in isolating the extremists in those countries, and he deserves high praise for having the courage and intelligence to pull it off.

As everyone knows, it is a tricky balancing act, politically, to even talk about the Israeli-Palestine conflict in evenhanded terms. Unfortunately, it is political suicide in this country to give the impression you don’t fully back Israel, due to the overly-powerful AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) lobby’s influence over Congress.

Some will say Obama’s words were not strong enough regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but I thought he was masterful, given that he is constrained politically in how forceful he can be on this issue.

“Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people, and that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table,” he said.

And the best part: “I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state – I’m not going to put a time frame on it – that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.

“And, look, I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.”

By putting the attention on the children, he appeals to Israelis in a way nothing else could. Who can deny they are suffering, and that it is wrong? That the children deserve better.

He also talks about the obligation of Palestinians, of course, to get a hold of the situation and stop the extremists who lob rockets into Israel. But he recognizes, publicly, in front of the world, that it is the extremists who are the problem — not all Palestinians. And as simple as that is, it is extremely important.

So, let’s hope President Obama can continue to keep his trademark level-headedness in the face of what is sure to be mounting criticism on the right.

And, please, don’t cave in regarding the stimulus package! Job creation, NOT tax breaks, is what is needed, although the Republicans are trying to water it down with more tax breaks for their business supporters. But that’s a subject for another post.

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