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Obama Triangulates and Won't Go Where Other Great Americans Will on Hamas

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Ben Smith of Politico points out that Barack Obama has "drawn a line" regarding which of the world's problematic bad guys should be met by Presidents like himself -- and Jimmy Carter. He thinks Carter should not meet any Hamas leaders.

I guess isolation works for some and not others -- but ah, just when does one know in Obama's play book?

Apparently, he's OK meeting Israeli leaders because they disavow terrorism -- but still they protect and establish illegal settlements and have installed more roadblocks and inhibitions to Palestinian mobility than was the case since the November 2007 Annapolis Summit. And while knocking Carter's efforts, Obama fails to articulate how any negotiation that does not include in some way a wrestling match and attempt at a negotiation with Hamas will be stable enough to believe in.

A leading Knesset Member in Israel who strongly favors Senator Obama if he had the chance to vote in the U.S. elections told me recently that his one fear about Obama is that in his quest for the White House, he will ultimately have to shed his pragmatic approach to problem solving and demonstrate to critics "that he will be more Israeli than the Israelis."

To establish a context, look at this roster of great Americans -- all national foreign policy leaders, military leaders, former government officials, and public intellectuals -- who have been able to go where Barack Obama seems unable.

They all signed a letter at the time of the Annapolis Summit to President Bush and Secretary of State Rice that said that:

As to Hamas, we believe that a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys. Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.

While he didn't sign our letter, Colin Powell has also said that Hamas should not be isolated and must be engaged.

The roster of American leaders who led the letter are:


Others that are included on the roster of signatories are:

US AID Deputy Administrator HARRIET "HATTIE" BABBITT, former USIA Chief JOSEPH DUFFEY, former US Senator GARY HART, former US Senator LINCOLN CHAFEE, RAND Corporation Board Member and New America Foundation/American Strategy Program Chair RITA HAUSER, former Assistant Secretary of State JAMES DOBBINS, former State Department Policy Planning Director MORTON HALPERIN, former Deputy Ambassador to the UN WILLIAM VAN DEN HEUVEL, former Israel Foreign Minister SCHLOMO BEN-AMI. . .

former US Senator BIRCH BAYH, former Congressman and Corning CEO AMO HOUGHTON Jr., former National Intelligence Council Chairman ROBERT HUTCHINGS, Fletcher School Dean and former U.S. Ambassador STEPHEN BOSWORTH, former Assistant Secretary of Defense LAWRENCE KORB, former American Political Science Association President and Columbia University professor ROBERT JERVIS, Kings College Terrorism Chair and New America Foundation Senior Fellow ANATOL LIEVEN, former National Security Agency Director Lt. General WILLIAM ODOM. . .

Committee for the Republic President WILLIAM NITZE, Brookings Visiting Senior Fellow DIANA VILLIERS NEGROPONTE, Former CIA Deputy Director JOHN McLAUGHLIN, former US Ambassador JOHN MALOTT, former EU Commissioner for Foreign Relations CHRISTOPHER PATTEN, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East PAUL PILLAR, former US Senator LARRY PRESSLER, former US Ambassador FELIX ROHATYN. . .

MIT Center for International Studies Director RICHARD SAMUELS, retired Marine Corps General JOHN J. "JACK" SHEEHAN, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School Dean ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, Former Congressman STEPHEN SOLARZ, former First USA Bank CEO and Adagio Partners CEO RICHARD VAGUE, Former US Senator and UN Foundation President TIMOTHY WIRTH, and former US Ambassador and AIG Vice Chairman FRANK WISNER. . .

former New Jersey Governor and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, Nixon Center President and National Interest Publisher DIMITRI SIMES, former National Security Advisor to Vice President Al Gore LEON FUERTH, Brookings Senior Fellow PHILIP GORDON, former US Ambassador to NATO ROBERT HUNTER, former Malaysia Deputy Prime Minister ANWAR IBRAHIM, former CIA Deputy Director JOHN McLAUGHLIN. . .

former State Department Chief of Staff LAWRENCE WILKERSON, Lehman Brothers Managing Director THEODORE ROOSEVELT IV, former US Ambassador JOSEPH WILSON, former Chief Monitor of the Middle East Roadmap at the Department of State JOHN S. WOLF -- among others.

Former President Jimmy Carter is right to try and do what can be done to kick the tires of an alternative, internal solution to the political division of Palestine. His work may fail -- but the effort is worth exploring.

The correct position for Obama to have taken is to say that he would be open to what someone like a Jimmy Carter. . .or a Colin Powell. . .or a Tony Blair, Joschka Fischer, Javier Solana, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, or Saudi King Abdullah might be able to achieve by way of Hamas and Fatah. Emissaries are important, and they can create opportunities a President can't often take the risks to do himself or herself.

Obama, in my view, has tarnished his foreign policy credentials here. If he can't embrace what these Americans have been able to do -- and what Senator Chuck Hagel has suggested be done with Hamas -- then what use is his new vision?

What is his position today if not one that has been influenced by special interests whose political weight has undermined the strategic interests of the United States?

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note