So Obama is on his first Presidential trip to Israel (ok, I had to read it twice also when I saw it was his first Presidential trip to Israel, but lets not hold it against him) as many great (see Bill Clinton) and not so great (see Jimmy Carter) Presidents have also done. However, the questions that many people are asking is “what is the significance of this trip?” Why is Obama doing it now? What does the region look like as Obama pops in for a hello? What is the significance of where he is going and where he is not going on this trip? What is the big hubub about the speech he gave right on the tarmac? So yeah, that is a lot of questions, but I think we can get em’ all (like Pokemon).
Lets start with the first three questions which are tied together. What is the significance of this trip/ why is Obama doing it now/ what does the region look like? Thankfully we can answer all 3 of those questions at once (#3birds1stone). At least some of the significance for this trip comes from the fact that the Syria regime continues to wage war against its on people and may or may not have already used chemical weapons on its own people. In that same vein the rebels, partially made up by the Islamic extremist factions, are rumored to have gotten some of the chemical weapons into their possession. Jordan grows ever closer to the Arab Spring (some call the Islamic Winter) with a majority of National Palestinians and over 500,000 Syrian refugees and an out dated monarchy (hence the name The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). In the south the Sinai desert is still the “wild west.” Egypt is run by the Muslim Brotherhood who are frightening yet are still “stable” for now. Hezbollah in Lebanon is helping Asad (Syria) murder his citizens and trying to get some of the arms from the Syrian regime to get ready for their next attack on Israel. Hamas in Gaza has just started launching rockets back into Israel (yesterday a rocket hit Sderot…welcome to Israel President Obama). Now we can move past what the neighborhood looks like and talk about the significance for the relationship between Israel and America.
Obama and Netanyahu have what some would define as a “strained relationship” (though I bet you couldn’t tell from all these pictures of them bro-ing out with their jackets over their shoulders). But in Obama’s defense, any professional relationship with an Israeli can be taxing, however, that does not excuse his hot mic problems at the UN or the comment he made to Goldberg (no relation to me) last month where he said “not only is Netanyahu moving his country toward international isolation, but the Israeli public itself ‘doesn’t know what its best interests are.'” (This was taken from Rule #3 “Thou Shall Not Diss They Counterpart” in The Ten Commandments of Visiting Israel from Foreignpolicy.com writer Oren Kessler. However, I am going to assume that both leaders are adult enough to get past the personal disagreements and they are clearly making a show of their friendship so lets not get too tied up in this issue. This issue of the significance of the friendship brings me to one of the major questions, where is he visiting and why?
Based on the question in the Times of Israel post Where Obama’s visiting in Israel where he isn’t and why by Raphael Ahren the locations of where Obama’s trip hits can help define what his visit symbolizes. I am not going to restate the whole article but it is an important article to read and here I will list a couple of highlights of the visit: visiting an Iron Dome battery (the foreign aid manifestation and how US saves Israeli lives), Netanyahu’s House (can you say house party?), The Israel Museum (where he will see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the technological developments Israel is leading the world with), Ramallah (lunch and press conference and you can check out the update from that here – Meeting Abbas, Obama says 2-state deal is ‘still possible’ by NY Times writers Mark Landler and Alan Cowell). Obama will also be giving a speech to the students of Israel. In addition he is going to Yad Vashem (on right)…and you can look at all the rest of his stops in Israel. The stops indicate a look to the future of the State of Israel, its partnership with America, but acknowledging Israels past. By visiting Yad Vashem and the Dead Sea Scrolls some say that Obama is presenting the image that the Jews were here before, and they will remain here. Israel is the Jewish homeland and I could not be prouder of his itinerary.
Finally it is important to look at the speeches he gave while in Israel. I would like to look at the short but sweet speech Obama delivered on the runway at Ben Gurion Airport. The text of speech is here and you can watch the actual speech clicking here. The important aspects to think about in this speech include where he spoke and what he said.
Why did Obama speak on the runway? What is the significance of that? I would guess there could be any number of ways to interpret it. Whether it was that Obama wanted to speak as soon as he got to Israel, or the fact that he is giving a speech about the historic ties to Israel on the tarmac of the modern Israeli city. No matter how you interpret the location of the speech, it is food for thought.
Finally the actual speech. There is not much I can say about the speech other than fantastic! He touches on the Jewish roots in Israel, assures the country that he stands with them (a statement of suspect for some though not for me), he makes a point this is his FIRST foreign trip…or his second term, he articulates the reasons for why Israel and America stand together concisely and articulately. His repetitive line “we stand together” is brilliantly placed and not overly done but still emotional. It is a great speech and I thoroughly enjoyed it.