Political Highlights May 22, 2011: Obama Addresses AIPAC — Reaffirms His Position on Israel’s 1967 Borders — Canada Objects, Palin, & Gingrich Criticize

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

THE HEADLINES….

  • Obama to AIPAC: Israelis, Palestinians should negotiate a new border: President Obama said his call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines did not mean the future state of Palestine would have those exact borders.
    “By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama said on Sunday morning to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
    Last week, Obama said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be based on the pre-’67 lines, with mutually agreed swaps. He also said the difficult issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be deferred for later. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called such borders “indefensible.”
    “If there is a controversy, it’s not based on substance,” Obama said Sunday. “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”… – JTA, 5-22-11
  • Obama Challenges Israel to Make Hard Choices: President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to “make the hard choices” necessary to bring about a stable peace.
    Mr. Obama, speaking before a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered familiar assurances that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s long-term security was “ironclad.” But citing the rising political upheaval near Israel’s borders, he presented his peace plan as the best chance Israel has to avoid growing isolation.
    “We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace,” Mr. Obama said. The world, he said, “is moving too fast.”
    Administration officials said it would be up to Mr. Obama, during an economic summit in Paris next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming United Nations vote, a prospect that would deeply embarrass Israel. Some French officials have already indicated that they are leaning toward such an endorsement.
    “He basically said, ‘I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work with, even America can’t save you,’ ” said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
    The appearance by Mr. Obama on Sunday punctuated a tense week in which he and Mr. Netanyahu made their separate cases about Palestinian statehood to American audiences. Mr. Netanyahu will address the same group on Monday and will speak before Congress on Tuesday at the invitation of Republican lawmakers…. – NYT, 5-22-11
  • Obama seeks to reassure Israel on Mideast policy in speech at AIPAC conference: President Obama sought to reassure Israel and its supporters of “ironclad” U.S. support Sunday in a speech to a Jewish lobbying group that also warned that time could be running out for a peace accord with Palestinians.
    Obama, wading afresh into a topic that evoked anger from Israeli leaders last week, insisted again that 1967 boundary lines should be the starting point for talks on a new Palestinian state. But he allowed that the dividing line would be negotiated to accommodate Israeli settlements and security needs.
    “Israelis and Palestinians will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its annual conference in Washington.
    While sticking to the views he outlined in a Middle East policy speech Thursday, Obama more clearly aligned his position on borders to one espoused by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. The Bush White House had concluded that a return to the precise boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War was “not realistic,” because of the presence of large Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    Acknowledging that Israel faced “hard choices” and security risks, Obama argued that stalling on peace negotiations posed even greater dangers for the country’s survival. The Arab Spring movement and changing demographic forces — including growing numbers of Palestinians west of the Jordan River — present long-term challenges to Israel that will be resolved only by the creation of separate homelands for Jews and Palestinians, he said.
    “No matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option,” he said. “The status quo is unsustainable.”
    “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” he said.
    Obama said he was not surprised by the uproar over his Thursday speech but added that “if there is controversy, it is not based on substance.”
    “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” he said. “I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.:”… – WaPo, 5-22-11
  • Obama to AIPAC: I won’t back down on Israel-Palestine border issue: Speaking to AIPAC Sunday, President Obama repeated his position that Israel-Palestine peace negotiations must acknowledge the 1967 borders as a starting point. But he also emphasized that US commitment to Israel’s security is ‘ironclad.’
    President Obama is not backing down on how to solve the Israel-Palestine border issue in achieving peace in the Middle East.
    Speaking Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – which identifies itself as America’s leading pro-Israel lobby – Obama reiterated his stance: Any negotiation has to begin by acknowledging the 1967 borders before the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied land in Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.
    Speaking to AIPAC Sunday, Obama sought to clarify what he had meant on Thursday regarding the 1967 borders.
    “By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama said. “It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”
    “The ultimate goal is two states for two people,” he said, “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people – and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people – each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”… – CS Monitor, 5-22-11
  • Mideast Obama restates call for ‘1967 lines’ in Israeli-Palestinian talks: Unwilling to retreat from Benjamin Netanyahu’s angry outbursts, Barack Obama warned thousands of ardent pro-Israelis that finding a lasting peace with Palestinians begins with Israel’s pre-1967 frontiers.
    The U.S. President’s tone was soothing and his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee placatory, but he didn’t budge from his statement last week that has sparked a furor and the remarkable spectacle of an Israeli prime minister publicly disputing an American president in the Oval Office.
    As Mr. Obama reiterated Sunday, it remains the obvious – if not explicitly stated position by any previous president – that negotiating boundaries for a Palestinian state begins with Israel’s frontiers before the lightning war of June 1967, when Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan, seizing and occupying the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the revered walled city of old Jerusalem.
    “If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance,” Mr. Obama said, added that he has said nothing new or startling, although his reference to “1967 lines” drew scattered boos from the audience that has been explicitly told to respectively receive speakers, even if they disagree.
    “It was my reference to the 1967 lines – with mutually agreed swaps – that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now,” Mr. Obama said. He said his position has been “misrepresented” although he didn’t call out Mr. Netanyahu – who will deliver his own version of the way forward Monday to the 10,000-plus AIPAC at the most powerful pro-Israeli group’s annual convention. (The blunt-speaking Israeli leader – whose relationship with Mr. Obama has ranged from distant to frosty – will give a speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress.)
    “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace.” “Delay will undermine security,” he added…. – The Globe & Mail, 5-22-11
  • Obama Quotes Talmud at AIPAC, Tells Hamas “Release Shalit”: In an address aimed at placating his disgruntled Jewish supporters, President Barack Obama told his audience of over 10,000 at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday that “a strong and secure Israel is in the interest of the United States and the bond between our two vibrant democracies must be nurtured.”
    He maintained that he did not say anything fundamentally new in his Thursday speech, when he mentioned the “1967 borders” as a basis for future peace
    Taking intense criticism from pro-Israel supporters since then, when he called for Israel to negotiate a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, he sought to heal wounds by enumerating actions taken by the US to foster Israel’s security…. – Virtual Jerusalem Post, 5-22-11
  • Obama, at AIPAC, takes on the 1967 borders issue: An interesting morning at the AIPAC policy conference. Then again, how could it not be with President Barack Obama addressing more than 10,000 participants only days after giving a major policy address on the Middle East?
    I half expected a purely political speech, reaffirming his strong support for Israel, using key slogans like Israel’s qualitative military edge and banging away at Iran, and avoiding his call the other day for peace negotiations kith the Palestinians based on the 1967, with negotiated land swaps.
    In an almost stern tone, he referred to how his comments have been “misrepresented” – presumably by those pro-Israel activists who say he called for a return to the exact borders of 1967, which polite critics call “indefensible” and less polite ones call “Auschwitz borders.”
    He said that “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means that “the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”
    Then, an almost chiding tone: “If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”
    His core argument: with the winds of change sweeping across the Arab world, with growing attempts to delegitimize Israel – which he promised his administration would “steadfastly” oppose – and with the Palestinian effort to bypass direct negotiations with its UN General Assembly gambit, the “status quo is unsustainable” and time is running out…. – The NY Jewish Week, 5-22-11
  • Protests Break Out at AIPAC During Obama’s Speech: KnightNews.com has a crew in Washington D.C. where protests against Israeli and US foreign policy are breaking out outside the AIPAC convention.
    KnightNews.com ilive streamed video of the protests, and we have concluded the live stream to go inside the conference and get video interviews with the other side. An updated video story with both sides will be posted as soon as possible. The protests came before, during and after US President Barack Obama spoke at the conference…. – Knight News, 5-22-11
  • ’67 lines not top Mideast peace hurdle: US lawmaker: Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist remains the primary impasse for Mideast peace, and not the recently revised dispute over territorial lines, the Republican US House majority leader said Sunday.
    Representative Eric Cantor, the most senior Jewish member in House history, also told the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference that it was time for the Arab world and Palestinians in particular to stop “scapegoating” Israel and to earn their statehood by renouncing violence.
    A Palestinian “culture infused with resentment and hatred” over the Jewish state is stymieing the peace process, which has all but frozen in recent months, and whose future is in turmoil with the Palestinian Authority recently signing a unity pact with Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist group.
    “It is this culture that underlies the Palestinians’ and the broader Arab world’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” Cantor said told some 10,000 delegates at AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
    “This is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ’67 lines,” he said to a rousing standing ovation.
    “And until Israel’s enemies come to terms with this reality, a true peace will be impossible.”… – AFP, 5-22-11
  • Several GOP presidential hopefuls to attend AIPAC Conference: As President Barack Obama’s Mideast speech this week came under fire from many in the Republican Party for not being supportive enough of Israel, several GOP prospective presidential candidates will be appearing this week at a major event sponsored by a key American Israeli lobbying organization.
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman will attend a policy conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, Ari Goldberg, a spokesman for the group, confirmed to CNN.
    Obama will be making his first appearance as president before an AIPAC event when he addresses the conference Sunday morning. Several leading members of Congress are also scheduled to speak at the event…. – CNN, 5-21-11
  • Palin slams Obama, supports Israel: Former Alaska governor says US should defend Israel against enemies, adds her primary goal is to make sure Obama not reelected
    Former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin slammed Barack Obama’s Mideast policy speech, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does not need to be lectured by President Obama on the importance of peace. He understands it.”
    In an interview for Fox News on Saturday, Palin went on to speak in support of the Jewish state: “Anyone who studies history, studies the Old Testament, studies geography understands that Israel now is surrounded by enemies at all times,” she said. “It should be now that America takes a stand in defending our enemies in Israel.
    “More than ever we should be standing strong with Israel and saying ‘No, you don’t have to divide Jerusalem, you don’t have to divide your capital city,’” she added.
    She continued to attack Obama, saying his foreign policy “really makes no sense.”
    “I’m going to call him our temporary leader because my goal is to make sure that President Obama is not reelected in 2012,” she said.
    Palin, who has yet to decide whether to run for president in the coming elections, wasn’t the only Republican to express disapproval of Obama following his tense weekend meeting with Netanyahu.
    Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a prominent contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said that Obama “threw Israel under the bus.”
    “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace,” Romney said.
    Tim Pawlenty, another Republican presidential hopeful, called Obama’s demand for Israel to return to 1967 borders a “disaster waiting to happen.”… – YNet News, 5-22-11
  • Ottawa won’t back Obama’s Mideast peace proposal: The Harper government is refusing to join the United States in calling for a return to 1967 borders as a starting point for Mideast peace, a position that has drawn sharp criticism from Canada’s staunch ally Israel.
    At a briefing ahead of the upcoming G8 summit in France, federal officials said the basis for the negotiations must be mutually agreed upon.
    Israel quickly rejected U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal for the talks to be guided by the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps.
    “What the government of Canada supports is basically a two-state solution that is negotiated,” a senior federal official said. “If it’s border, if it’s others issues, it has to be negotiated, it cannot be unilateral action.”
    Pressed by reporters, federal officials said both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to decide on their bottom lines, which the Israelis have said will not include a return to the 1967 border.
    “If the two parties are of the view that this is a starting point, that is fine for them,” said the federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
    The Prime Minister’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, added that Canada’s position continues to be the search for a two-state solution.
    “No solution, ultimately, is possible without both parties sitting down, negotiating and agreeing on what that final outcome will look like,” he said…. – The Globe & Mail, 5-22-11
  • Israel ‘approves new West Bank settler homes’: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has approved the construction of 294 new homes in Beitar Ilit settlement on the occupied West Bank, anti-settlement NGO Peace Now reported on Sunday.
    It also said that work had started on more than 2,000 settler homes since the end in September of Israel’s 10-month freeze on Jewish construction on Palestinian land.
    Peace Now made its announcement as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington preparing to address the US Congress and a powerful pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
    It said Barak has also approved building of homes for the elderly and a shopping centre in the settlement of Efrat…. – AFP, 5-22-11

QUOTES

  • Remarks by the President at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011 Walter E. Washington Convention Center Washington, D.C.: THE PRESIDENT: ….Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.
    On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed — (applause) — we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years — that even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable — (applause) — and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad. (Applause.)
    A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and children can live free from the threat of violence. It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.
    America’s commitment to Israel’s security flows from a deeper place — and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers — and foremothers — fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedoms we cherish must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland for the Jewish people. (Applause.)
    We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel living in a very tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot and saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket, and when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.
    Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. (Applause.) It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. (Applause.) And that includes additional support –- beyond regular military aid -– for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. (Applause.) A powerful example of American-Israeli cooperation — a powerful example of American-Israeli cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. (Applause.)
    You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Applause.) Here in the United States, we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. (Applause.) At the United Nations, under our leadership, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we’re going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear –- we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Applause.)
    Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality. Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and we will stand up to groups like Hezbollah, who exercise political assassination and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.
    You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. (Applause.) As I said at the United Nations last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.” (Applause.)
    So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. (Applause.) When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it. (Applause.)
    And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. (Applause.) And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. (Applause.)
    Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. (Applause.) And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. (Applause.) No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (Applause.) And we will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements. (Applause.) And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years. (Applause.)
    And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. And that is why on Thursday I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims — the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians since at least the Clinton administration.
    I know that stating these principles — on the issues of territory and security — generated some controversy over the past few days. (Laughter.) I wasn’t surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. I don’t need Rahm to tell me that. Don’t need Axelrod to tell me that. But I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. (Applause.) So I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.
    Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
    Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.
    Third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.
    And just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.
    And those are the facts. I firmly believe, and I repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. (Applause.) Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment; that is my pledge to all of you. (Applause.)
    Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner –- which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist. (Applause.) And we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and for their rhetoric. (Applause.)
    But the march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations –- will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. And for us to have leverage with the Palestinians, to have leverage with the Arab States and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. And so, in advance of a five-day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.
    There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations. Since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday — not what I was reported to have said.
    I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause) — so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
    As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself –- by itself -– against any threat. (Applause.) Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. (Applause.) And a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign and non-militarized state. (Applause.) And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated. (Applause.)
    Now, that is what I said. And it was my reference to the 1967 lines — with mutually agreed swaps — that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
    By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. (Applause.) That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. (Applause.) It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people — (applause) — and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. (Applause.)
    If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. (Applause.) The world is moving too fast. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.
    Now, I know that some of you will disagree with this assessment. I respect that. And as fellow Americans and friends of Israel, I know we can have this discussion.
    Ultimately, it is the right and the responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. (Applause.) And as a friend of Israel, I’m committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized. And I will call not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, on the Arab States, and the international community to join us in this effort, because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone. (Applause.)
    But even as we do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security, even as we are clear-eyed about the difficult challenges before us, and even as we pledge to stand by Israel through whatever tough days lie ahead, I hope we do not give up on that vision of peace. For if history teaches us anything, if the story of Israel teaches us anything, it is that with courage and resolve, progress is possible. Peace is possible.
    The Talmud teaches us that, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.” And that lesson seems especially fitting today.
    For so long as there are those across the Middle East and beyond who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal.
    And so long as there are those who long for a better future, we will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security. This is not idealism; it is not naïveté. It is a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. (Applause.) That is my goal, and I look forward to continuing to work with AIPAC to achieve that goal.
    Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you. – Transcript
  • Gene Simmons Slams President Obama’s Israel Policy: ‘He Has No F-Ing Idea What The World Is Like’Breitbart, 5-22-11
  • Sarah Palin Criticizes Obama on Israel; Calls Him ‘Temporary Leader’: In an interview with Fox News’ Judge Jeanine on Saturday, Palin spoke in support of the Jewish state, saying, “Anyone who studies history, studies the Old Testament, studies geography understands that Israel now is surrounded by enemies at all times.
    “It should be now that America takes a stand in defending our friends in Israel.”
    Obama has been drawing fire from Republicans after delivering a major speech on Thursday. In it, he stated, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
    Also rejecting Obama’s stance, Palin stated on Fox, “To tell Israel that now they have to pull back from their homeland, that they have to concede even more, and that they have to negotiate with terrorists, with Hamas, having been a part now joining in the unity government under Palestinian authority, we’re flirting with disaster under President Obama’s very clouded, very murky foreign policy as it applies to Israel.”
    What the U.S. should be doing more than ever is “standing strong with Israel and saying, ‘No, you don’t have to divide Jerusalem, you don’t have to divide your capital city,’” she continued.
    Palin commented, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not need to be lectured by President Obama on the importance of peace. He understands it.”
    “I’m going to call him a temporary leader, because my goal is to make sure that President Obama is not reelected in 2012,” she said on Fox.
    “We the people need to rise up, saying we’ll take a stand for Israel. We’ll be on their side, no matter if our ‘temporary leader’ sides with terrorists and demands Israel negotiate with terrorists.
    “Until President Obama is replaced by a president who understands the importance of treating our friends right and being strong against our enemies – until that happens – it’s ‘We the People’ who have to rise up and make sure that Israel knows they have friends here.”… – Christian Post, 5-21-11
  • Newt Gingrich Leads Criticism on Obama’s Israel-Palestine Remarks: Republican presidential hopeful and Catholic convert Newt Gingrich has labeled President Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian policy a “disaster” during Sunday’s CBS program “Face the Nation.”
    Outspoken Gingrich said Obama’s remarks were “extraordinarily dangerous,” and further stated that “a president who can’t control his own border probably shouldn’t lecture Israel about their border.”
    Gingrich was referring to Obama’s comments this week that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations be based on border demarcations from before the six-day war in 1967, in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip among other territories. Furthermore, he stated that potential agreements should include land swap deals to reflect changes over recent decades.
    Gingrich said on “Face the Nation:” “I think that defining the 1967 border would be an act of suicide for Israel. They are totally non-defensible.
    “You have Hamas, which is a terrorist organization whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel. The idea that somehow we’re supposed to be neutral between Hamas and Israel is fundamentally flawed and I do not believe that we should have any pressure on Israel as long as Hamas’ policy is the destruction of Israel and as long as missiles are being fired into Israel and terrorists are preparing to try to kill Israelis.”
    Gingrich is not the only one condemning Obama’s stance towards Israel; Congressman Ron Paul has also issued a blistering critique of Obama’s recent proposals.
    “Unlike this President, I do not believe it is our place to dictate how Israel runs her affairs,” the Texas Republican said in a press statement.
    “There can only be peace in the region if those sides work out their differences among one another. We should respect Israel’s sovereignty and not try to dictate her policy from Washington,” he added…. – Christian Post, 5-22-11
  • MK Katz Warns AIPAC, ‘Obama Put a Gun to Israel’s Head’: “Don’t fall for U.S. President Barack Obama’s magical oratory. He put a gun to Israel’s head and asked it to commit suicide,” National Union chairman and Knesset Member Yaakov (Ketzaleh) Katz MK wrote the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Sunday.
    The legislator continued, “I urge you not to be captured by his magic tongue because he actually is asking you for your votes and your money.”
    MK Katz wrote to AIPAC committee members, “The People of Israel, in the Diaspora for 2,000 years, developed a sense of who loves us and who hates us. President Obama knows very well that former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban described the 1967 borders as ‘Auschwitz borders.'”
    “The People of Israel will not fall for the false charm of posters, slogans, cellophane wrappers of sweetened drugs of death”, he concluded. – Israel National News, 5-22-11
  • Livni on Obama speech: US and Israel have shared interests: Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Sunday commented on US President Barack Obama’s speech to AIPAC earlier, saying “The principle of Israel’s security and the need to arrive at a two-state solution, one of which is the State of Israel, is first of all an Israeli interest. Therefore, we need to be going in this direction in our partnership with the US.”
    “It’s important to understand that the entire world looks at the relationship between Israel and the United States, especially those who still do not accept our existence here. And part of Israel’s deterrence capability comes from the understanding that we are working together [with the US]. Therefore, there is a very important message coming from Washington these days,” Livni said.
    She stressed, “The things that Obama mentioned represent a long-standing American policy. We have shared interests. This is very important to Israel, so that it can once and for all advance the process to prevent unilateral moves at the United Nations.” – JPost, 5-22-11
  • Eric Cantor: Israel is America’s Most Loyal Ally: Republican Eric Cantor, the GOP majority leader in the House of Representatives, addressed the attendees of the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.
    Speaking of his immigrant roots and of his pride of being Jewish, Cantor told the audience that “America needs Israel as it is our most stable and loyal ally,” adding that “America must do everything in its power to protect Israel. It is okay to vilify Israel but it is not okay to scapegoat Israel.”
    He addressed the conflict between Israelis and Arabs and said that the root of the conflict is not the so-called 1967 lines (the 1949 armistice lines which defense experts have said would be indefensible), but rather the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel. Israel wants to live in peace, said Cantor, but PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has to stop promoting hate and should come to the negotiating table. Until that happens, noted Cantor, there can be no peace, particularly with Hamas being part of the PA government…. Israel National News, 5-22-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Gil Troy: Despite the talk about “Obama’s Mideast speech” Thursday, I actually heard two separate addresses. In the first, President Barack Obama offered vague nostrums about the “Arab spring,” best summarized in three words: Democracy is good. Obama transitioned awkwardly to the second speech, about Israelis and Palestinians, saying: “Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.” In this section, the professorial president turned from airy abstractions to problematic particulars. Although it was impossible to predict America’s next move in the Arab world from the speech’s first part, we now know exactly how an Israel-Palestine peace treaty would look if Obama could dictate it and those annoying people who live there would just follow….
    Even more problematic was his call for “the borders of Israel and Palestine” to “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” These words not only seem to contradict George W. Bush’s vow to Ariel Sharon based on decades of American policy, but the deification of 1967 boundaries lacks historical nuance in a region obsessed with nuance and history.
    The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that in the region particular borders shifted and populations moved. Anyone who talks about people frozen in place for centuries or borders as if they were permamarked on a map is either a fool or a fanatic. Bible-based Israelis must admit that the boundaries of Biblical land of Israel, varied, just as passionate Palestinians must admit that the boundaries of Palestine-Israel in the twentieth-century alone shifted repeatedly.
    We cannot undo history and we must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and a touch but not too much historicity. Obama’s overlooked line about the “growing number of Palestinians [who] live west of the Jordan River,” explains why each of the two clashing people should have a state. Peace will work if it passes the test of what Obama called populism, working logically for many people today, not at some random point from the past.
    Obama did speak beautifully about “a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.” Alas, this speech did not do enough to buttress the forces of hope over hate, and by feeding the 1967 obsession, Obama himself was too shackled to one unhelpful perspective on the past.
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February 4, 2011: Crisis & Protest in Egypt; President Obama, U.S. and the World React

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

CRISIS IN EGYPT & THE MIDDLE EAST:

The President Discusses the Situation in Egypt
White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy, 2/1/11

IN FOCUS

  • Egypt News— The ProtestsNYT
  • Hosni MubarakNYT
  • Latest Updates on Day 10 of Egypt ProtestsNYT

THE HEADLINES….

  • White House, Egypt Discuss Plan for Mubarak’s Exit: The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday.
    Even though Mr. Mubarak has balked, so far, at leaving now, officials from both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which Mr. Suleiman, backed by Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.
    The proposal also calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September, the officials said.
    Senior administration officials said that the proposal was one of several options under discussion with high-level Egyptian officials around Mr. Mubarak in an effort to persuade the president to step down now…. – NYT, 2-3-11
  • Israel ponders border security, enlarged military amid Egypt unrest: Israelis are looking fearfully beyond the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, expecting it will force them to stiffen security across an extensive southwestern border and perhaps reoccupy a strategic corridor between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
    In the long term, it may require Israel to expand its military force and budget if a new Egyptian government comes under the sway of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, or otherwise casts into doubt the long-standing peace accord between the two nations.
    Israel has relied for three decades on the assumption that it would never again fight a land war against the Arab world’s most populous state, or worry about Egypt openly supporting militants in the Gaza Strip or elsewhere…. – WaPo, 2-4-11
  • Canada’s cautious position on Egypt linked to support for Israel: On the surface, the Conservative government’s statements on the crisis in Egypt might seem a carbon copy of those churned out by the White House. But there has been one major difference — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staunch support for Israel and strong backing within Canada’s Jewish community could offer clues about why.
    President Barack Obama’s administration, along with major European countries, have called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step aside now and allow for a transition of power. But the Canadian government has markedly refrained from asking for Mubarak’s ouster. Instead, it has spoken in broad terms about the need to respect human rights and a peaceful transition to democracy.
    Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Thursday condemned the detention of Canadian journalists in Cairo, but did not wade into the question of Mubarak’s presidency.
    During an emergency House of Commons debate late Wednesday night, Conservative MPs repeatedly noted their concerns about Israeli security and the need to uphold the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace accord. “In order for us, here in Canada, to recognize and support the future Egyptian government, it must meet four basic conditions: first, it must respect freedom, democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women; second, it must recognize the State of Israel; third, it must adhere to existing peace treaties; and fourth, it must respect international law,” Cannon said…. – Canadian Press, 2-2-11
  • Kerry-McCain resolution calls on Mubarak to step down: Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator John McCain are calling on embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to immediately begin a peaceful transition to a new democratic government. The two former presidential candidates, Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008, have been among the leading voices of their parties on international affairs in general and the violent unraveling of Egypt’s power structure specifically. The two co-wrote a resolution, passed by the Senate on a voice vote tonight, that calls on Mubarak to hand over power to a caretaker government…. – Boston Globe, 2-3-11Resolution Copy
  • Yemen’s President Is Latest To Vow Exit: President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he won’t run for re-election when his term ends in 2013, and that he won’t attempt to pass on the presidency to his son, abruptly ending his bid to change the constitution to erase all term limits on the post. Opposition leaders called the president’s concessions insufficient and urged their supporters to join renewed mass protests Thursday. Ahead of that rally, most major commercial banks in the capital, San’a, reported large withdrawals from thousands of citizens, as fears grow that the protest will turn violent.
    Separately, Jordan’s largest political group, the Islamic Action Front, said it plans mass protests Friday over the appointment of a new prime minister, Maruf Bakhit, who started talks Wednesday on the formation of a new government…. – WSJ, 2-3-11
  • Obama Continues to Monitor Tense Egypt Situation: President Obama returned to the White House after a brief trip to Pennsylvania on Thursday, and has been holding more consultations with his advisers on the situation in Egypt. The United States pressed harder on the Egyptian government and military to stop a wave of violence.
    The president moved quickly past members of the press corps without comment, and into the Oval Office where over the past few days of the Egyptian crisis he has met with advisers and spoken twice by telephone with President Hosni Mubarak.
    In an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, Mr. Mubarak referred to those conversations and said, according to excerpts, while he is a “very good man” Mr. Obama didn’t understand the culture of Egypt. In the same interview, Mr. Mubarak said he was “very unhappy” with violence in Egypt, which he blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, but said he could not step down and risk the chaos he says would ensue…. – VOA, 2-3-11
  • US, UK condemn attacks on journalists in Egypt: The United States and Britain condemned the intimidation of foreign reporters covering protests against President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday and said the Egyptian government must not target journalists.
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned assaults on American journalists in Cairo as concern rose about the possibility of an intensified round of rioting on Friday.
    “This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press and it is unacceptable under any circumstances,” she said, reading a statement…. – Reuters, 2-3-11
  • Tens of thousands turn out for rival rallies in Yemen: Anti-government protesters in Sana are met with a competing rally across town by the president’s supporters, who get logistical support from the army…. – LAT, 2-3-11
  • Egypt’s VP uses state TV to blame unrest on ‘foreign agendas’: Egypt’s new Vice President Omar Suleiman took to state TV Thursday night to make a play for Mubarak to hang on until presidential elections in September…. – CS Monitor, 2-3-11
  • The Arab reform dodge: Cosmetic concessions aren’t enough: LIKE EGYPTIAN President Hosni Mubarak, Arab rulers around the Middle East are trying to head off the swelling popular discontent in their countries while retaining political control…. – WaPo, 2-3-11
  • GOP divided over Obama response to Egypt: As chaos roils Egypt, Republican lawmakers and the GOP’s potential presidential candidates are divided over President Barack Obama’s response though united in concern that an Islamic regime could rise to power in a nation that is an important U.S. ally in the precarious Middle East.
    Compared with recent verbal sparring on domestic issues, the debate between Democrats and Republicans on Egypt is somewhat muted. That’s perhaps because the two parties differ little over U.S. policy toward Egypt. Both view the country as a linchpin to a peaceful Middle East. And while supportive of democracy there, both also express concern about the influence of extremists in a post-Mubarak government, a particular worry of Israel.
    Trying to set the tone for their party, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the country’s two top elected Republicans, have deferred to the Democratic president. They are signaling an unwillingness among the GOP leadership in Congress to pick a fight, in line, at least on this issue, with the tradition that politics stops at the waters’ edge in the midst of foreign crises. “America ought to speak with one voice,” said McConnell…. –
  • The Pentagon View of Egypt: What the Uprising Means for the U.S. MilitaryABC News, 2-3-1
  • Why Obama’s position on Egypt’s Mubarak was too little, too late: The images that have come out of Egypt over the past week are stunning: tens of thousands of largely unarmed protestors facing tanks, teargas, and live ammunition and who are still demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down. But throughout the upheaval, the United States response has been guarded, if not inadequate. After days of tepid statements and measured acknowledgements of the Egyptian people’s “legitimate grievances,” even an eventual call for “free and fair elections,” the Obama administration would still not publicly call for Mr. Mubarak’s departure…. – CS Monitor, 2-2-11
  • Journalists Are Targets of Violence in Cairo: As chaos gripped central Tahrir Square in Cairo on Wednesday, journalists covering the scene on the ground found themselves the targets of violence and intimidation by demonstrators chanting slogans in favor of President Hosni Mubarak. One prominent American television correspondent, Anderson Cooper of CNN, was struck in the head repeatedly.
    Reporters Without Borders said it had received dozens of confirmed reports of violence against local and international journalists in Egypt. Tala Dowlatshahi, a spokeswoman for the group, said to “expect more foreign journalists to be targeted.” The attacks were reported by Al Jazeera, CNN and Twitter users almost as soon as violent clashes began in the square, also known as Liberation Square, eliciting a strong condemnation from the White House and the State Department…. – NYT, 2-2-11
  • Uprising in Egypt Splits U.S Conservatives: Glenn Beck blasts the uprising in Cairo as a threat to our way of life. Michelle Goldberg on how the rebellion is splitting U.S. conservatives—and the fallout for the 2012 presidential campaign. Plus, full coverage of Egypt’s protests…. – The Daily Beast, 2-1-11
  • Obama Urges Quick Transition in Egypt: President Obama declared on Tuesday night that an “orderly transition” in Egypt “must begin now,” but he stopped short of demanding that President Hosni Mubarak leave office immediately. Mr. Obama used his four-and-a-half minute speech from the Cross Hall of the White House to embrace the cause of the protestors in Egypt far more fully than he has at any previous moment since the uprising against Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year-rule began.
    He praised the Egyptian military for refusing to fire on the protestors. And by declaring that Mr. Mubarak had to begin the process of transition immediately, he seemed to be signaling that the United States would not stand by if Mr. Mubarak tried to slow-walk the process, or manipulate its results.
    But if he pushed Mr. Mubarak, he did not shove him. Mr. Obama said there would be “difficult days ahead,” a clear signal of recognition that the transition period could be messy. Only a few hours before, Mr. Mubarak had declared he would not run for re-election, but planned to stay in office through September. Mr. Obama never discussed that timetable in his public response, and he did not declare exactly what steps he wants the Egyptian leader to take to start the process of transition.
    But he made clear that the process started by the protestors could not be reversed. “We’ve born witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country,” Mr. Obama said, casting it as a natural successor to other moments of transition in a society that goes back thousands of years…. – NYT, 2-1-11
Netanyahu and Mubarak
Reuters Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, left, and President Hosni Mubarak at a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Jan. 6.
  • Israel wary of transition in Egypt, concerned about regional stability: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s quickening collapse and increasing political turmoil in Jordan have prompted concerns in Israel that its historic peace treaties with those countries may not withstand the convulsion sweeping the region.
    A change of power in Egypt and instability in Jordan could have profound consequences for Israel, which depends on the peace accords – its only two with Arab countries – as a cornerstone of its security. The treaties struck by Israel with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994 remain unpopular among the residents of the two Arab nations, and Israel has relied on the strength of Mubarak’s regime and the Jordanian monarchy to keep them intact.
    Not all of the recent developments have been bad from the Israelis’ perspective: Newly appointed Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman has become a trusted interlocutor on regional security issues, and the United States will push to ensure that the peace accords remain in place. But the fast pace of events may change how Israel perceives its position, and make it less willing to offer territorial concessions as part of any peace deal with the Palestinians. The country is still digesting the rise in Lebanon of a new government chosen by the Shiite Hezbollah, one of its chief antagonists, and may now sense instability on all sides.
    Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened top intelligence analysts and senior cabinet members in Tel Aviv for a day of urgent consultations Tuesday to weigh the changes underway in Egypt and assess the strength of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, an Israeli official said. Abdullah sacked his cabinet Tuesday amid clamors for more economic and political reform. After the meetings, Netanyahu said the international community “must demand that any Egyptian government preserve the peace accord with Israel.”… – WaPo, 2-1-11
  • Quiet Acts of Protest on a Noisy DayNYT, 2-1-11
  • Israel shocked by Obama’s “betrayal” of Mubarak: If Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak is toppled, Israel will lose one of its very few friends in a hostile neighborhood and President Barack Obama will bear a large share of the blame, Israeli pundits said on Monday. Political commentators expressed shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told ministers of the Jewish state to make no comment on the political cliffhanger in Cairo, to avoid inflaming an already explosive situation. But Israel’s President Shimon Peres is not a minister.
    “We always have had and still have great respect for President Mubarak,” he said on Monday. He then switched to the past tense. “I don’t say everything that he did was right, but he did one thing which all of us are thankful to him for: he kept the peace in the Middle East.”… – Reuters, 1-31-11
  • Turbulence Rocks an Israeli Ally: The street revolt in Egypt has thrown the Israeli government and military into turmoil, with top officials closeted in round-the-clock strategy sessions aimed at rethinking their most significant regional relationship. Israel’s military planning relies on peace with Egypt; nearly half the natural gas it uses is imported from Egypt; and the principle of trading conquered land for diplomatic ties began with its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt more than with any other foreign leader, except President Obama. If Mr. Mubarak were driven from power, the effect on Israel could be profound. “For the United States, Egypt is the keystone of its Middle East policy,” a senior official said. “For Israel, it’s the whole arch.”… – NYT, 1-30-11
  • Clinton Calls for ‘Orderly Transition’ in Egypt: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Sunday for “an orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt, stopping short of telling its embattled president, Hosni Mubarak, to step down but clearly laying the groundwork for his departure. Mrs. Clinton, making a round of Sunday talk shows, insisted that Mr. Mubarak’s future was up to the Egyptian people. But she said on “State of the Union” on CNN that the United States stood “ready to help with the kind of transition that will lead to greater political and economic freedom.” And she emphasized that elections scheduled for this fall must be free and fair. President Obama reinforced that message in phone calls on Saturday and Sunday to other leaders in the region, including King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, as the administration tried to contain the regional reverberations…. – NYT, 1-30-11
  • U.S. cautiously prepares for post-Mubarak era: Mindful of other allies in the region, U.S. officials have been careful not to abandon the Egyptian leader, urging him to implement a transition to democracy. But they are also preparing for the possibility of his ouster…. – LAT, 1-30-11
  • What impact will the uprising in Egypt have on the Middle East, the U.S., Canada, China, and the EU? The Mark’s experts weigh in.The Mark News, 2-2-11

QUOTES

Anti-government protestors gather in Cairo's central Tahrir Square on Thursday. New clashes erupted as anti-government protesters came face-to-face with Egyptian President Hosni Mubaraka's supporters.
Anti-government protestors gather in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Thursday. New clashes erupted as anti-government protesters came face-to-face with Egyptian President Hosni Mubaraka’s supporters.
  • Press Secretary Gibbs on Egypt, Violence & Journalists: During his gaggle with the press aboard Air Force One, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs opens the session with pointed remarks about recent developments in Egypt…. – WH, 2-3-11
  • Remarks by the President on the Situation in Egypt: Good evening, everybody. Over the past few days, the American people have watched the situation unfolding in Egypt. We’ve seen enormous demonstrations by the Egyptian people. We’ve borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States.
    And my administration has been in close contact with our Egyptian counterparts and a broad range of the Egyptian people, as well as others across the region and across the globe. And throughout this period, we’ve stood for a set of core principles.
    First, we oppose violence. And I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it has shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people. We’ve seen tanks covered with banners, and soldiers and protesters embracing in the streets. And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.
    Second, we stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information. Once more, we’ve seen the incredible potential for technology to empower citizens and the dignity of those who stand up for a better future. And going forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world.
    Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments; this is one of those times.
    Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
    Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
    Throughout this process, the United States will continue to extend the hand of partnership and friendship to Egypt. And we stand ready to provide any assistance that is necessary to help the Egyptian people as they manage the aftermath of these protests.
    Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom.
    To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren. And I say that as someone who is committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt.
    There will be difficult days ahead. Many questions about Egypt’s future remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers. That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets. It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers. And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum — a new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity; a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day. – WH, 2-1-11TranscriptMp4Mp3
  • Time for Mubarak to ‘step down’: US Senator McCain: Top US Senator John McCain, shortly after talks with President Barack Obama, urged embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday to “step down and relinquish power.” “Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres Mubarak 2 step down (and) relinquish power,” McCain said in a post on the microblogging site Twitter roughly an hour after discussing the bloody political crisis in Egypt with Obama. “It’s in the best interest of Egypt, its people (and) its military,” said the lawmaker, Obama’s rival for the US presidency in 2008 and the top Republican on the US Senate Armed Services Committee…. – AFP, 2-2-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • New York Times: Room For Debate: Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace: What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?… – NYT, 2-1-11
  • Gil Troy: Anxiety and Skepticism: Egypt’s uprising has already undermined most Israelis’ sense of security and their willingness to take risks for peace with the Palestinians. Israelis now worry about the biggest risk they ever took for peace: the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.
    A radical Egypt downgrading or abrogating its peace treaty with Israel would top the litany of failed peace-making attempts and reinforce the argument of right-wing skeptics against trading land for peace with the Palestinians. Moreover, a hostile Egypt would reinforce the sense of betrayal so many Israelis have felt since 2000, as the failure of the Oslo peace process triggered a wave of Palestinian terror, the withdrawal from Lebanon boosted Hezbollah, and disengagement from Gaza brought Hamas to power.
    Israelis have longed for greater intimacy with the Egyptian people, always speaking of “peace with Egypt” not with Mubarak. Yet this “cold peace” has been government to government not people to people. Israelis have accepted the limits, given their alternatives.
    Mubarak’s Egypt has served as an important counterweight to Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The recent Wikileaks documents suggested some of the benefits Israel enjoyed from its alliance with Mubarak, including diplomatic support, intelligence sharing and military cooperation. Most important have been decades of non-belligerency. With the loss of that sense of security on its southern border, Israelis will be much more reluctant to cede control of their eastern border to an independent Palestine.
    This week’s hysterical headlines in the Israeli press about the potential loss of Egypt, the dip in Tel Aviv stocks, the debate about whether President Obama can be trusted to support American allies, all suggest that Israel’s strategic doctrine is being hastily rewritten.
    The prospects of peace become even more unlikely if Egypt turns Islamist. Israel’s safest border will suddenly look menacing. Hamas will look stronger in Gaza with an Islamist Egyptian regime not even pretending to try to stop the flow of arms. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will look like a less viable peace partner with fundamentalism ascendant, and any pro-peace or pro-Western Palestinians demonized as collaborators. Moreover, Israeli policymakers will feel caught, doubting Mahmoud Abbas as another unelected autocrat while fearing the popular Palestinian street more than ever.
    Israelis find themselves once again in dissonance with the international community. Many Israelis wish they could wholeheartedly support this popular move against an aging dictator. But the bitter experience of the last ten years suggests that skepticism is in order. – NYT, 2-1-11
  • Khaled Fahmy: Mubarak Fails to Quell Protests as Turmoil Spreads to Yemen: “I expect the demonstrations to continue,” said Khaled Fahmy, professor of history at American University in Cairo, in a telephone interview. “He really hasn’t offered much. What I’ve seen is that he has burned bridges. There is no trust between him and the people.” SF Chronicle/Blomberg, 2-2-11
  • Yale History prof sign letter to Obama regarding Egypt: As protests against the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak continue in Egypt, three Yale professors joined over 150 academics in signing an open letter to President Barack Obama yesterday, calling on Obama to support Egypt’s democratic movement. The letter reads:
    For thirty years, our government has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain the system the Egyptian people are now trying to dismantle. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday ‘political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,’ your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants.
    Alan Mikhail, an assistant professor of history who researches Egypt during the Ottoman period, said he saw the letter as a “small gesture” academics could make, regardless of whether it sways Obama’s opinion.
    “It seems like a small gesture that I as a historian could do, to show support for the people in Egypt who are protesting, and sometimes putting their lives on the line, for a better society and a better government,” Mikhail said. “Is [Obama] going to read it? I have no idea. He’s a very busy guy.”… – Yale Daily News, 2-2-11
  • Kent Schull: Professor to students: Write your members of Congress about Egypt: In an effort to support the millions of Egyptians protesting their authoritarian government, one University of Memphis professor is asking students to flock to their keyboards. Kent Schull, assistant history professor, has expertise in modern Middle East history and said he thinks students should write to their state and U.S. representatives.
    “These people are really trying to get a better life for themselves, and that resonates with all of us,” he said. “We all want basic freedoms that we all feel we have a right to, and this is what the Egyptian people want, and I think the United States has to put the Egyptian people’s interest ahead of our own international interest.”
    “You have a huge gap between the rich and poor,” he said. “Egypt has a lot of its money coming from tourism and from small manufacturing depths from agricultural production, and the people that control that — they have a lot of money, but the vast majority of the population is very poor.”
    Schull said that the U.S.-Egypt alliance is based, in part, on geography and natural resources. “Egypt has been a very close trade partner with the United States,” he said. “(It’s) a very close political partner for trying to keep stability within the Middle East. Without Egypt as an ally, then it would be very tough to get Saudi Arabia’s oil to us.”
    The U.S. doesn’t want Egyptian people viewing it as a country that funds a dictator, Schull said. “The U.S. has been walking this fine line and probably needs to throw its support very squarely behind the Egyptian people going for democratic change,” he said. Schull said that the more representatives and senators hear from Americans about supporting these Egyptian protests, the more likely it is that “maybe they’ll listen.”… – Daily Helmsman, 2-2-11
  • Charles Wilkins: Wake Forest Professor: Economy Plays Role In Egyptian Protests: The violence is escalating in Cairo. Protestors for and against President Hosni Mubarak are clashing, surrounded by burning buildings and gun fire. Hundreds have been hurt since Wednesday when the protests turned violent. So what’s causing the un-rest in Egypt? Wake Forest University Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History, Charles Wilkins, says it started with pent up anger and the resentment of Egypt’s government
    The economy also plays a role. “Economics of it are very important. We have high unemployment, we have low wages and high cost of living. We have basically a housing shortage,” says Charles Wilkins. “It’s a young generation that’s actual rebeling. This is a politically active and aware population that want to see change.”
    Wilkins also credits the internet with helping protestors coordinate their efforts and making them more powerful. He says the protests in Tunisia a few weeks ago gave Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians the courage to question their governments…. – WFMY News 2, CBS Newspath, CNN Newsource, 2-3-11
  • Historians worry about Egyptian antiquities: The fighting has intensified in Tahrir Square. It has become a battle field. That is where the Egyptian Museum is located, filled with antiquities and the history of Egypt. There are concerns among historians about the fate of the museum and its huge collection.
    “In a situation like this where anything could happen you are always worried,” Professor Carol Redmount director of Near East Studies at UC Berkeley said.
    “On the one hand in a situation like this you are always concerned, these things are irreplaceable, they’re national treasure, international treasures, they tell is about our human history,” Redmount said. “But the Egyptian people will do whatever they can to protect it.”
    Redmount has reason to be concerned. Earlier this week vandals broke into a museum and smashed statues and glass. It is likely the next wave will steal items.
    “You can try to sell it on the antiquities market, now everyone is going to be looking for these things on the antiquities market,” Redmount said. “They’ve been looting the site with shovels, which is better than bulldozers, at the same time we don’t know how much damage has been done,” Redmount said… – ABC Local SF, 2-2-11

February 19, 2009: Obama Signs the Economic Stimulus Bill into Law and his Canada Visit

President Obama

White House photo 2/18/09 by Pete Souza

Housing plan

On Feb. 18, 2009, President Obama announced his plan to help homeowners and stabilize the housing market. Learn more about how the plan might affect you.

Learn more

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

IN FOCUS: STATS

In Focus: Stats

  • Rasmussen’s daily polling: Job approval of Barack Obama continues to be high: most recently 60 percent approve and 39 percent disapprove.
    His disapproval numbers have risen, from 29 percent on January 22 and 23, up to a range of 37 percent-39 percent starting February 7. – US News & World Report, 2-19-09

THE HEADLINES….

The Headlines…

President Obama arrives in Canada

  • Obama Makes Overtures to Canada’s Leader: President Obama charted a delicate course with Canada on Thursday, using the first foreign trip of his presidency to ease tensions over trade policy, climate change and the war in Afghanistan — all the while basking in his celebrity status in a nation where his approval ratings are so high that a local bakery named a pastry after him. – NYT, 2-19-09
  • APNewsBreak: Black pastors to ask Burris to resign: A group of black ministers who previously supported U.S. Sen. Roland Burris now plan to ask for his resignation, one of the ministers told The Associated Press on Thursday. Many of the city’s influential black pastors supported Burris because of his scandal-free reputation — even though he was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the governor was arrested. – AP, 2-19-09
  • Cheered in Canada, Obama treads lightly: President Barack Obama courted warmer relations with America’s snowy northern neighbor Thursday, declining to ask war-weary Canada to do more in Afghanistan, promising he won’t allow a protectionist creep into U.S. trade policy and talking reassuringly around thorny energy issues. – AP, 2-19-09
  • Obama’s Bipartisanship Is One Sappy Dream: Margaret Carlson: In his long and sometimes snarky campaign, John McCain took to ridiculing Barack Obama and his supporters for imputing messianic qualities to the upstart candidate, mockingly referring to the Democrat as “The One.” New evidence suggests McCain was on to something. In less than a month, Obama has breathed life back into a Republican Party the whole world took for dead…. – Bloomberg, 2-19-09
  • U.S. tells N. Korea to end insults, return to talks: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday told North Korea to stop being provocative and return to talks on ending efforts to build a nuclear arsenal. – AP, 2-19-09
  • Calif. lawmakers send Schwarzenegger budget bills: The California Legislature on Thursday approved a plan to close a $42 billion budget deficit after an epic impasse that involved several all-night sessions, sending Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a package of bills that raises taxes and cuts spending. It was not immediately clear when Schwarzenegger would sign the bills. – AP, 2-19-09
  • Clinton looks to boost US image in Asia: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton moved Wednesday to boost U.S. ties with the world’s most populous Muslim nation and its neighbors, pledging a new American willingness to work with and listen to Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. – AP, 2-18-09
  • Stimulus Tour Takes Obama to New Blue States: A trend is emerging in President Obama’s out-of-the-gate travel itinerary: Top billing has been given to states that turned from red to blue in the fall. So far this year, Mr. Obama has visited Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Virginia and Colorado, states that usually voted Republican in presidential elections but that went Democratic in November. – NYT, 2-18-09
  • US commander: Troops ‘stalemated’ in Afghanistan: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan offered a grim view Wednesday of military efforts in southern Afghanistan, warning that 17,000 new troops will take on emboldened Taliban insurgents who have “stalemated” U.S. and allied forces. – AP, 2-18-09
  • Obama throws $75 billion lifeline to homeowners: President Barack Obama threw a $75 billion lifeline to millions of Americans on the brink of foreclosure Wednesday, declaring an urgent need for drastic action — not only to save their homes but to keep the housing crisis “from wreaking even greater havoc” on the broader national economy. – AP, 2-17-09
  • Obama signs stimulus bill, readies homeowner plan: Racing to reverse the country’s economic spiral, President Barack Obama signed the mammoth stimulus package into law Tuesday and readied a new $50 billion foreclosure rescue for legions of Americans who are in danger of losing their homes. – AP, 2-17-09
  • Signing Stimulus, Obama Doesn’t Rule Out More: President Obama has not ruled out a second stimulus package, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said on Tuesday, just before Mr. Obama signed his $787 billion recovery package into law with a statement that it would “set our economy on a firmer foundation.” – NYT, 2-17-09
  • GOP governors consider turning down stimulus money: A handful of Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with record foreclosures and soaring unemployment. –
  • How the heck could the census be controversial?: Still more analysts were certain it was a result of the 2010 census and who would have ultimate management responsiblities for it’s conduct. Normally the census is under the auspices of the Commerce Department, but the Obama Administration had signaled the upcoming census would be getting some added attention and oversight from the White House. Mr. Gregg denied the census was any big deal, though it didn’t discourage some from insisting the census was the raison d’etre for Gregg’s withdrawal. Examiner, 2-17-09

President Obama

White House photo 2/18/09 by Pete Souza

Housing plan

On Feb. 18, 2009, President Obama announced his plan to help homeowners and stabilize the housing market. Learn more about how the plan might affect you.

Learn more

President Obama signs the economic recovery bill into law

White House photo 2/17/09 by Pete Souza

A Strong Start

In Denver, CO, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law — a major milestone on the long road back to a sustainable economic future.

Read the President's remarks

President Obama and Sen. Kent Conrad in the Oval Office

POLITICAL QUOTES

Political Quotes

  • Hillary Clinton to reporters at a news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan: “North Korea is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with (South Korea). We are calling on the government of North Korea to refrain from being provocative and unhelpful in a war of words that it has been engaged in because that is not very fruitful. She said that was “in stark contrast to the tyranny and poverty across the border to the North” and commended the “people of South Korea and your leaders for your calm, resolve and determination in the face of provocative and unhelpful statements and actions by the North.”…. “The North should refrain from violating this resolution and also from any and all provocative actions that could harm the six-party talks and aggravate the tensions in the region.” – AP, 2-20-09
  • Bill Clinton “Honoring an old friend given the Lindy Boggs Award, which highlights the year’s Southern woman in politics”: “I want to bring you greetings from my favorite woman in politics who, as you all know, is secretary of state [and] is now in Japan doing the world’s work for America over there. I had a little bite of that apple last year, trying to convince people that women should be in higher executive positions. I learned something very interesting one more time about the process of social change and how the wheels of history grind slow or, as Martin Luther King said, the arc of history bends slowly, but it bends toward justice. Psychologically, we’re sometimes not even aware of how we feel about letting women make decisions that used to be made by men until we actually have to come up against it. I’ll tell you a very interesting thing in the state where Hillary ran best—next to Arkansas: West Virginia. She won the [state primary] election by 40 points, but in the exit polls, people were asked about Hillary and President Obama. ‘Does it bother you to have an African-American president?’ ‘Do you have any reservations about having a female president?’ Fifteen percent of West Virginians admitted that they had some qualms about having an African-American president; 21 percent said they had some qualms about having a female president. That’s in a state where she won by 40 points.” – US News & World Report, 2-19-09
  • Eric Holder U.S. a ‘nation of cowards’ on race, 1st black attorney general says Holder’s speech signals more active Justice Department on civil rights issues: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said in a Black History Month speech to hundreds of Justice Department employees. “It is an issue we have never been at ease with, and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable,” Holder said. “And yet, if we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.” – Chicago Tribune, 2-19-09

President Obama signs the economic recovery bill into law

  • Barack Obama: Remarks by the President at Signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: “What I am signing is a balanced plan with a mix of tax cuts and investments. It is a plan that’s been put together without earmarks or the usual pork barrel spending. And it is a plan that will be implemented with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability…. And we expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results. That is why we have created Recovery.gov – so every American can go online and see how their money is being spent…. Our American story is not — and has never been — about things coming easy. It’s about rising to the moment when the moment is hard, converting crisis into opportunity, and seeing to it that we emerge from whatever trials we face stronger than we were before.” – WH Blog, 2-17-09
  • Joe Biden: Remarks by the Vice President at Signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Last year — last year our economy lost 3 million jobs; 600,000 more just this last month. There are an awful lot of mothers and father who had to walk up those stairs to the bedroom of their children and tell them that, “I’m out of work, honey. We may not be able to stay here. You may not be able to stay in this school. It’s a tough, tough conversation. And many — too many times it’s already occurred in this country. We’re here today — we’re here today to start to turn that around…. Starting today, our administration will be working day and night to provide more aid for the unemployed, create immediate jobs, building our roads and our bridges, make long-term investments in a smarter energy grid, and so much more. And as we turn the economy around, we’ve got to make sure of one more thing. Last time an economic recovery occurred after a deep recession, the middle class got left behind — the middle class got left behind. And that’s why the President has set up a White House Council on the Task Force on the Middle Class, which he’s asking me to chair. – WH Blog, 2-17-09

President Obama

HISTORIANS’ AND ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

Historians’ and Analysts Comments

  • Gil Troy “It’s Time to Mobilize Obama’s Army for a Values Revolution”: The story of Barack Obama’s brilliant grassroots organizing as a candidate is now campaigning legend. But since Election Day, the “what do we do now” question has vexed Obama’s Army. Two million activists and an email list of thirteen million “slacktivists” constitute a potent political force. If Obama only uses these idealists as an amen corner, he will miss a chance to deliver the change he promised and millions seek. President Obama should mobilize his army of supporters to launch a mass movement fostering collective and individual responsibility….
    “Organizing for America” must be slicker and more profound, better identified as a force calling on Americans to serve their community while transforming all the good will Obama has generated – even after his rough week – into a transformational conversation about how we live our lives and do politics. The times demand more than the brass bands and blue eagles of the 1930s or the house meetings and mass emailings we have seen so far. If President Obama can get millions investing their time, energy and money into fulfilling his vision, with the same enthusiasm they invested into his campaign, his presidency will be monumental, with the occasional hiring lapses and concessions to Congressional pork upstaged by the renewed citizenship covenant he has so far romanticized but not yet designed. – HNN, 2-19-09
  • Julian Zelizer: “Obama places big bets in first month”: “The level of government intervention that we are seeing or at least is proposed is pretty significant and it is taking place in multiple parts of the economy,” said Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer. “The problem is if it doesn’t work, if the economy is worse (and not) better, this could be a big liability. That is the gamble.”… “It took (president George W.) Bush a little while to look like a president, until 9/11. He did not have that gravity until that famous speech with the firefighters,” said Zelizer. – AFP, 2-19-09
  • Gil Troy “The First 100 Days: George Washington Set the Standard for All Future Presidents”: Adds historian Gil Troy in Leading From the Center: “Washington was a muscular moderate, far shrewder than many acknowledged. Emotionally disciplined, philosophically faithful to an enlightened, democratic ’empire’ of reason, Washington passionately advocated political moderation. Acknowledging his own shortcomings as a human being, he tolerated and welcomed others’ views. He realized that others might reasonably reach different conclusions about important issues. Washington’s idea of democratic politics was to seek common ground and blaze a centrist trail.” – U.S. News & World Report, 2-19-09
  • Donald A. Ritchie “Senate not likely to oust Sen. Roland Burris anytime soon”: “It’s a collegial body that doesn’t like to police its members,” said Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate’s associate historian. “It prefers to leave that to the voters and to the courts.” – LAT, 2-19-09
  • Gil Troy “Canada’s best Presidents Relations with the U.S. still depend on how our leaders get along”: The interaction between Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Reagan makes an intriguing case study. At first glance, they seemed bound to clash. “There’s a great picture,” says Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University and author of Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, “of Trudeau in an ascot, looking very European, and Reagan in a brown suit, looking sort of midwestern.” Yet he points out that Reagan writes favourably in his memoirs about his first meeting with Trudeau, recalling how they agreed on the need for a closer North American alliance, planting the seeds of the free trade deal Reagan eventually signed with Brian Mulroney.
    When there’s a clash between American and international interests, or course, presidents tend, like politicians everywhere, to play to the home crowd. In Obama’s case, that might eventually spell disappointment for his legions of admirers abroad, including Canadians. “At a certain point it is more important for him to be popular in Peoria than in Ottawa, let alone than in Europe,” says Troy. Macleans, 2-18-09
  • Douglas Brinkley “The President’s Tone”: “You see Obama sputtering a lot in January and February 2009,” historian Douglas Brinkley told ABC for Good Morning America today. “It”s his rhetoric that keeps saving him.” “It’s a kind of new federalism going on,” Brinkley says, “a new belief in government. But I do think it needs to be packaged a little bit better so it’s not just an argument of ‘what company should we bail out?'” – ABC News, 2-17-09
  • Allan Lichtman “Obama’s Economic Stimulus Bill Most Ambitious Since Roosevelt”: “No one’s going to have 100 days like Franklin Roosevelt again, with 15 major pieces of legislation,” said Allan Lichtman, a political history professor at American University in Washington. “But leaving aside that impossible comparison, Obama’s accomplishments stack up very well.” – – Bloomberg, 2-17-09
  • John Thompson “Obama’s Trip to Canada Could Yield Lessons in Banking, Health, Duke Professor Says”: “Canada’s banking system is doing really, really well,” said John Thompson, a professor of history and in Duke’s Center for Canadian Studies. “Canada hasn’t had a single bank failure, and the World Economic Forum ranks their banking system as the healthiest in the world. America’s is number 40. Canadians save at much higher rates than people in the U.S., and because they’re not allowed to deduct mortgage payments, they aren’t seeing overheated real estate markets,” said Thompson, author of “Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies. Canadians spend nine percent of their GDP on health care — compared to the U.S.’s 16 percent — and still get better results overall,” he said. “And because the system is national, you don’t have this problem of businesses losing their competitiveness due to huge health insurance costs. In foreign policy, Canada has been pretty wise, too. They’ve fought alongside the U.S. in every major modern war — except Iraq and Vietnam. That looks like pretty good judgment in hindsight. Of course, there’s not really a trend of U.S. presidents taking advice from Canadians. There’s a pretty good chance this visit will be no more than a photo op for a rock-star president before his adoring Canadian fans.” – AScribe (press release), 2-17-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Too much space: Romney selling Utah home”: Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, says it’s hard to believe that Romney, as wealthy as he is, needed to downgrade. “If it’s not financial, it’s not inconceivable the memories of the McCain issue may be on his mind,” Zelizer says. He may be downsizing, “so when he runs next time he doesn’t have four to five homes for his opponent or President Obama to talk about.” – Salt Lake Tribune, 2-16-09
  • James K. Glassman “Stimulus: A History of Folly”: Before he was sworn in as President, Barack Obama began to lay out his plans for reviving an American economy that, it would later be discovered, had declined 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, its worst performance in 26 years…. He anointed the stimulus proposal with a convenient and vivid metaphor. “We’re going to have to jump start this economy with my economic recovery plan,” he said on January 3. According to the image, one can jolt a dormant economy into action just as one can hook up polarized cables to a car battery, clamp a defibrillator to the chest, or breathe into the ear of a reluctant lover. Suddenly, the object of our attention will be back in action, aroused. Alas, the questions raised by a proposed stimulus—whether to apply it, what sort it should be, how much it should cost, and when it should begin and end—are far trickier to answer than problems involving dead batteries…. – Commentary, 3-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Commentary: Stakes are huge for Obama and nation”: Last week, Obama told an audience in Florida that if his economic recovery plan does not work, “then you’ll have a new president.” Regardless of whether Obama meant that he would not run again or that he would be defeated, he referred to how much is at stake with the federal programs that were debated over the past two weeks. But Obama severely understated what is really at stake. Far more than his presidency is at risk. The $787 billion economic recovery legislation, combined with financial bailout likely to cost more than a trillion dollars, has opened up a huge debate in American politics over the role of the federal government in an economic crisis….
    The stimulus package and financial bailout will become the symbol to show why government intervention does not work in times of economic crisis. This, according to liberal economists, is the danger posed by the compromises that were made by the administration — both in asking for less than most economists think is necessary and then settling for an even lower figure in the negotiations. The effects of new policies on politics can be enormous. When Americans enjoyed economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s, liberals were able to point to the New Deal and subsequent federal programs as powerful evidence that government intervention can benefit the nation. When Americans enjoyed renewed economic growth during the middle of the 1980s and much of the 1990s, conservatives looked back toward Reagan’s 1981 tax cut as proof that lowering the tax burden had boosted the economy. Regardless of Obama’s future, it is likely that Americans will be talking about this economic recovery and financial bailout programs years from now as they reach conclusions about whether the government can lift this country out of an economic crisis. – CNN, 2-16-09
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