The U.S. war in Iraq has just been given an unexpected seal of approval. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in what he billed as his “last major policy speech in Washington,” has owned up to the gains in Iraq, to the surprise that Iraq has emerged as “the most advanced Arab democracy in the region.” It was messy, this Iraqi democratic experience, but Iraqis “weren’t in the streets shooting each other, the government wasn’t in the streets shooting its people,” Gates observed.
In his State Department speech last week, Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet to Benjamin Netanyahu. In the Oval Office a day later, and more fully in an address to Congress yesterday, Netanyahu picked it up and threw it right back. The question now is whether this clash can be turned into a new understanding between the United States and Israel that improves the prospects for the two-state solution both parties say they want. To bring this about, Obama will have to make further tweaks to his approach and rethink his declared stance on Palestinian refugees, among other matters.
Who is the forty-fourth president of the United States? After two-and-a-half years, we should have a pretty good idea. But we still don’t. Barack Obama remains a canvas for the mind—a wondrous, vexing projection surface. He is a rock star and redeemer to his devotees, and a left-wing Darth Vader to his enemies. Yet, above all, he is a man of too many qualities; take your pick. Or take his vaunted speech last week on North Africa and the Middle East.
Jerusalem—It was a nation of ambivalent Israelis that listened to President Obama’s latest Middle East plan—an interim agreement based on ending the occupation of the Palestinians while somehow ensuring the security of the Israelis. Israeli ambivalence is peculiar: It has nothing to do with uncertainty or confusion. Instead, to be an ambivalent Israeli is to be torn between two conflicting certainties.
As the revolt that started this past winter in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Libya, and beyond, dissidents the world over were looking to the Middle East for inspiration. In China, online activists inspired by the Arab Spring called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition members called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. Perhaps as a result, those watching from the West have been positively triumphalist in their predictions.
Wowy, zowy, Obama is doing his own thinking on the Middle East and here’s the even worse news: He’s taking advice from Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria. These pathetic tidings about the inner Barack Obama, who puts his very own twist on all things, particularly Arab and Muslim matters, and the other Barack Obama, who needs counsel from two political therapists, famous and even clever but not especially deep, come from the subtle and highly reliable journalist Mark Landler in The New York Times. These tidbits are not contradictory.
Politicians in Washington are grappling with how to address rising gasoline prices, but most of their answers—from repealing tax breaks for oil companies to expanding offshore drilling—are unlikely to make much of a difference any time soon. The Arab awakening, coupled with Iran’s accelerated pursuit of nuclear weapons, ensures that energy prices will likely remain elevated for a long time. In the near- and long-term, those events are leading to less energy produced and exported from the Middle East and North Africa than there otherwise would be, as well as greater risk to their transport.
The conservative accounting of Hollywood types who express their political views comes in two forms. The first form -- the dominant type -- is when a Hollywood liberal pipes up about politics, and the reaction inevitably involves sneering at the idea anybody should care about what some Hollywood liberal thinks. The second form occurs when a Hollywood conservative speaks his mind, and it invariably entails rapturous, fawning gratitude at the emergence of a brave voice in the wilderness. Andrew Ferguson's lengthy profile of David Mamet in the Weekly Standard falls into the second category.
Since the conflict in Libya really started to get messy, oil prices have risen steeply—from about $103 in mid-February to $123 a barrel last week. Given the country’s drop off in production (it represents about 2 percent of the world’s crude), the vote for separation of South Sudan (an oil producer) and the violence that has come from that, the continuing declines in oil production in Mexico and Venezuela, and the strikes and other problems in Gabon, Yemen, Oman, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria, the rise in price seems somewhat justified.
Silver and gold prices continued to rise today: In New York, silver futures almost hit $50 an ounce, which would be a thirty-year nominal high, before settling at $47.15. Meanwhile, after breaking the $1,500 mark for the first time last Thursday, gold futures also climbed, hitting $1,508.60 per ounce at the end of trading. Traders pointed to "a falling U.S. dollar, inflation fears, worries about mounting government debt burdens and continued unrest in the Middle East and North Africa" as reasons for the rise in silver and gold prices.