Hi, I’m Foreign Policy. Remember Me?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Sure, sure, it’s the economy that people want to hear about. But, you know, it wouldn’t have hurt President Obama or the press corps to have talked about foreign policy. There was a question on the Mexico border violence 24 minutes in; Obama said he won’t send the National Guard right now but he reserves the right to send them at a later point “if the steps we’ve taken do not help the situation.” There’s going to be a new approach to the Afghanistan war announced in the next few days. Obama didn’t mention it. The press corps didn’t ask about it. Ah well.

Fifty minutes in and an AFP reporter asked about Israel/Palestine peace now that the Labor Party in Israel has decided to provide a fig leaf of moderation to a far-right Netanyahu government that has a dubious commitment to a two-state solution. Obama acknowledged that achieving peace “is not easier than it was,” which is possibly the closest any U.S. administration has come in 20 years to acknowledging that Israeli rejectionism exists and is as problematic as Palestinian rejectionism. He seemed unintimidated. “We do know this: the status quo is unsustainable,” he said, and reiterated the standard U.S. vision of two states living side by side in peace and security. Whether that’s a shot across Netanyahu’s bow remains to be seen, but Obama could have taken a much softer line toward the new right-wing Israeli government.

Iran was the only foreign-policy issue Obama brought up unprompted. He did it in the context of pledging that “the whole philosophy of persistence is one I will emphasize in the months and years to come.” He derided critics who mocked his Nowruz address for not immediately yielding a watershed in U.S.-Iranian relations. “We didn’t expect it to,” he said, but he’ll keep going. What he didn’t say is how he’ll judge the difference between persistence and willful blindness.

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