In the Arena

Al Arabiya First

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Remarkable that the President gave his first major television interview to an Arabic network. My first thought was: I bet the Israel First lobby is going to find some way to be displeased about this thoughtful, if lapidary, interview. And, sure enough, first gripe goes to Eric Trager at the Commentary blog for this deeply superficial and silly analysis of the interview. And also inaccurate: Trager says that Mitchell will only have authority if he is perceived as speaking for the President, which is true enough–and also exactly what Obama said earlier, during the photo-op when he announced the Mitchell trip to the middle east earlier in the day. Mitchell will speak for the President.

If you’d like a more balanced account of the Al Arabiya session, try the one by Time’s Scott McLeod here. The most important thing about the interview, in my opinion, obviously was the sequencing of it–putting Al Arabiya first is a sign of respect toward the Muslim world of the sort that was sorely lacking during Bush’s Administration. But I’m worried: the Mitchell effort is sure to include a less tolerant attitude toward Israeli encroachments on Palestinian lands and, quite possibly, efforts to engage Hamas over the longer term (along with an insistence on peaceful behavior by Hamas).

The Israel First crowd won’t like that and they may well be bolstered by a Likud victory in the Israeli elections on February 11. They are just itching to go after Obama, to fire a broadside as soon as he strays from the Bush policy–or even before, as the Trager post demonstrates. Let’s hope Obama stands up to them. It is the only path to middle east peace, which, if it comes at all, will come very very slowly.