Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mission Obama: Middle East

Before Obama's middle east speech, I heard a senior BBC news editor interview him. His responses were very thoughtful and candid - albeit to the more diplomatic end of the scale when asked if Mubarek was a dictator. Afterwards, the editor commented that he saw Netanyahu after his talk with Obama - the discussion which ran twice the scheduled 60 minutes worth - and that Netanyahu looked particularly grim-faced - as if he'd been given a good talking-to.

Obama can achieve without taking action. His middle east speech was masterful in what it says to both sides: two states, settlements out, but the alliance with Israel is powerful. When the BBC canvassed comments on it afterwards from a range of people, it was notably only the Israeli and Palestinian extremists that had anything negative to say about it - all else was praise. A good illustration that Obama was on the right track.

He has already succeeded in wringing concessions out of Netanyahu: not yet on the settlements, but at least on the two states.

And his speech was exquisitely timed - probably intentionally - to have some effect on the Iranian election. In the leadup to that election, there was a degree of political activism in Iran that many commented they hadn't seen since the 1979 revolution.

The outcome - to date - of that election seems to have run counter to everyone's expectations, given the mood on the ground beforehand. Which is probably why many are calling fraud - a vote of over 60% for Ahmadinejad is tantamount to absurd. Situation still unfolding.

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