Losing Faith in the Messiah

Back to the Drawing Board

It was undoubtedly a brazen insult to Israel's powerful ally. Nevertheless, sympathy with the Americans has been muted. "Mr. Obama has himself to blame," the Financial Times remarked drily.

Back to the drawing board, in other words. The "indirect talks" that Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell wants to get up and running again are the same point at which a Middle East peace process began in Madrid 19 years ago, a process that has failed to produce a Palestinian state to this day.

Biden has plenty of experience in the Middle East. But his experience shows that -- even after six Israeli prime ministers -- Secretary of State James Baker's 1991 complaint still holds true today: "Nothing has made my job of trying to find Arab and Palestinian partners for Israel more difficult than being greeted by a new settlement every time I arrive."

The applause for Obama's Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. "He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been," says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama's failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations.

On his first day in office, Obama promised to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. But it is still in operation today, and Obama doesn't know where to put the prisoners.

He also hasn't managed to come to grips with the gamblers on Wall Street who helped trigger the financial crisis. When his advisor Paul Volcker sought to prohibit major banks from engaging in at least the riskiest practices, the Wall Street lobby fired back immediately.

From health reform to climate change, Obama has not yet managed any significant breakthroughs. When the US Capitol was engulfed in a blizzard in early February, the family of Republican Senator James Inhofe built an igloo outside and placed a cardboard sign in front of it that read: "Al Gore's New Home," and "Honk if you [heart] Global Warming."

Obama's critics are now equally disrespectful in their discussions of his foreign policy.

He set out to negotiate with Iran. He courted the regime, sent the Iranians a greeting to mark the Persian New Year, and even sent a letter to revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei. But the end-of-the-year deadline he had loudly proclaimed passed without incident, and yet Iran's uranium centrifuges in Natanz and Qom are still up and running.

Although Iraq held an election two Sundays ago, the results are so ambiguous, and the situation is so unclear, that Ray Odierno, the commanding general of US forces in Iraq, is thinking about delaying the withdrawal of his troops -- which would represent yet another breach of Obama's campaign promises.

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