Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Challenges of Compromise

President Obama said what was necessary in his Middle East speech today. He spoke truth to the power of change. He spoke of an entire region in transition and the importance of U.S. and global support for peaceful revolution. It was not until the last ten minutes of his 50-minute speech that he addressed the unceasing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in that regard he talked about the necessity for compromise. Compromise sucks. Particularly if you have strong feelings about one side of an issue. That said, the fact that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are especially pleased with his remarks is proof that he found a practical middle ground.

Given what’s been going on in the Middle East for the past six months – and what continues to occur – it would have been impossible for the President to make entirely pro-Israel comments, and indeed, it would not have been in Israel’s best interest. Similarly, had he suddenly placed America in an entirely pro-Arab/ Muslim position, it would have been a terrible betrayal of Israel and, in this instance too, not a stepping stone to a viable peace.

Those who choose to maintain a completely anti-Obama position, such as whoever’s writing the hateful and slanted American Blood Eagle blog, which called him Imam Obama and said he’s an anti-Semite, would do well to get a grip. In general, it would be really helpful if people stopped flinging terms like racist and anti-Semite around as if they were just handy catch-all phrases for things they don’t like. These words and what they represent are very powerful and it’s vitally important to make a distinction between those who take positions with which one disagrees and leveling such strident accusations.

As you probably know by now, the thing Mr. Obama said that upset Israel’s most ardent supporters is that Israel should return to the borders it had prior to the 1967 War, and that "long-term occupation" was untenable. Yes, that stung. But compromise means giving up something you care about. The President also said that Israel’s security interests must be protected, called for a non-military Palestinian state, and acknowledged that it is reasonable for Israel to resist negotiating with parties openly committed to its destruction. Guess who's unhappy about that?

In my opinion, President Obama made the most honest, pertinent and all-encompassing speech about the Middle East ever uttered by an American President. The very fact that he discussed the region as a whole and not just the Israeli-Palestinian “issue” demonstrates that.

There are those who are already dismissing the speech as a campaign tool and disparaging the President’s wisdom and sincerity. This is both disingenuous and counter-productive. There is no denying that Barack Obama is a politician and that as such he has done many things over the past three years that have been a body-jarring jolt to the progressives who put him in office. In a number of important instances, he has given the idea of “compromise sucks” disheartening new meaning.

But with this most-recent speech on the Middle East, Obama has shown an intelligence, understanding and sensitivity regarding complicated issues in an increasingly shrinking and technologically-connected world that is nothing less than laudable. If he’s gearing up for a nothing-left-to-lose second term, presenting us with the Obama we thought we were getting in the first place, America, the Middle East and the rest of the world will be the better for it.

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