Clueless in Gaza

Two weeks have passed since the Gaza flotilla was assaulted. The reflexive, near instant reaction of the Obama White House was to give strong, blanket support to the Israeli government. Some hoped that reflection would produce a more thoughtful response that conforms to American interests and principles. It has not been forthcoming. Instead, the country's political establishment has rallied behind the administration. The story itself has faded into the background, eclipsed by the Gulf oil spill and other headline events of the moment.

That is unfortunate. For the White House's behavior has grave repercussions while exposing how politics as usual dictates momentous decisions. So let's speak straight from the shoulder. The stakes permit nothing less. The entire American position in the Greater Middle East, already shaky, risks lapsing into farce and failure. No amount of special pleading and spin can gainsay that harsh truth. Beyond that, our integrity as a nation and our ability to exercise the immense responsibilities that we carry abroad are endangered.

Obama's behavior on the Gaza flotilla hardly deserves the label policy, much less strategy. It signals an utter lack of coherence - intellectual, diplomatic or ethical. Its fecklessness raises the question of whether our leaders have the seriousness to be stewards of the nation's foreign relations. That sad state of affairs is suggested by the absence of a modicum of honesty about what was done and why. Indeed, it suggests that our leaders are not being honest with themselves. Are we to take seriously the declaration of Hillary Clinton that an Israeli inquiry (with or without international observers) meets the criterion of 'impartiality' laid down at the UNSC -- a claim repeated Sunday by the White House? Are we to take seriously Robert Gibb's repeated glib assertion that the White House sees no damage to its standing and influence in the Middle East stemming from this affair? Are we to take seriously the remarks of self-avowed Christian Zionist Joe Biden in London (unreported in the U.S. press -- out of embarrassment, one hopes?): "So what's the big deal here?" Guardian, June 1.

Only within the cloistered precincts of Washington are these absurdities treated at face value. It is bad enough that the White House expresses contempt for decent opinion; it also seems to think that the people of the Middle East are fools. This after Musharraf, Maliki, and Karzai have run rings around us. Finally, if we are serious about contributing to a stable peace in the region, the man with whom we should be working is Erdogan -- not our aged retainer, Hosni Mubarak.