THE BLOG

With Allies Like These...

04/30/2015 12:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

Here's a punchline the Obama administration could affix to the Middle East right now: With allies like these, who needs enemies?

If you happen to be in that administration, that region must seem like an increasingly phantasmagorical place. America's closest allies, Israel and the Saudis, have been expressing something close to loathing for President Obama and his policies. In fact, you could think of the Saudi rulers as the John McCains of the Arabian Peninsula. Appalled to find Washington in something approaching a tacit alliance with their Iranian enemies in Iraq and actively negotiating a no-sanctions-for-nuclear-restrictions deal with that country, the Saudis launched a war of their own in Yemen and essentially forced the Obama administration into supporting it. Then they visibly ignored Washington's pressure to end their bombing campaign -- or rather claimed they were cutting back on it without evidently doing so -- which has been devastating to Yemeni civilians and ineffective in stopping the advances of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Though there's been relatively little in-depth media coverage of this curious moment in Riyadh-Washington relations, when the inside story does come out, it will undoubtedly prove to be a spectacle.

On the other hand, coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hijinks vis-à-vis Washington and the president's Iran policy has been unending, involving open hostility played out on a global stage as well as in front of the American Congress. No wonder that, at the recent White House Correspondents' Association's dinner, the president joked, "I look so old, John Boehner has already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral."

While Secretary of State John Kerry publicly expresses a kind of fealty to the Saudi war effort in Yemen that a worried administration clearly doesn't feel, its officials are now holding their noses, gagging a bit, and -- to smooth the way for a possible future Iran nuclear deal -- trying to tamp down the ongoing controversy with Netanyahu and the much-publicized rift with Israel.

Watching the Obama administration handle these strange new animosities and alliances is like seeing a contortionist tie himself in knots, while across the Middle East the chaos only increases on the principle of: every state a failed state. In such chaos, with its closest allies playing fast and loose with Washington, with terror groups rising and animosities swirling, it's easy to lose sight of what might be considered the ur-struggle of our era in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So today, TomDispatch turns back to that never-ending struggle, offering "The Flute at the Checkpoint," a report from Sandy Tolan on the aspect we in the U.S. hear least about: the increasing hemming in of Palestinians in what no longer looks like a future state, but a sliced and diced occupied land. Tolan's new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music In a Hard Land, is a moving account of one Palestinian's efforts to create a little breathing space in a landscape that otherwise couldn't be more claustrophobic by founding a music school amid all the dissonance.