Gordon's column from Wednesday's Gulf News:
One might think the health care debate is a purely domestic issue - holding no importance for the Middle East. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A thoughtful and measured reaction to President Obama's speech in Cairo earlier today is going to require a bit of time. That should be seen as a good thing - the President is a thoughtful and measured person. Here, however, are a few quick thoughts... with more to follow later.
A good initial take, however, can be found in this NYT blog post, consisting of quick reactions from Arab students in Egypt and Jordan. For a good summary of both the speech itself and of immediate reaction around the region take a look at this round-up from the BBC. Especially noteworthy is its report (sourced to AFP) that Hamas in Gaza gave the speech a guarded welcome, saying it showed "tangible change". In the nuanced world of Middle Eastern politics that represents a significant evolution in tone.
Unfortunate, if perhaps inevitable, is this analysis from Roger Simon at Politico. Simon is one of the most important analysts of the American political scene. By judging the speech almost entirely on the basis of which lines did or did not garner applause, however, he proves that a deep knowledge of American politics does not travel especially well.
Similarly, careful analysts should ignore reporting focused on the heavy security along Obama's motorcade route and the lack of adoring crowds. Some have treated this as evidence of a chilly reception. If US newspapers still took foreign coverage seriously, they would have local correspondents in Cairo who would know that the blocking off of a motorcade route hours in advance by police standing shoulder to shoulder along its entire length has long been standard procedure in Cairo for visits like this (as well as the rare occasions when President Hosni Mubarak ventures into the city center). In these instances the police are there to prevent crowds from forming. Even the sidewalks are closed to passing pedestrians.
This essay by Thomas Ricks, written for the Foreign Policy Research Institute is an important contribution to the national debate on Iraq that we sometimes seem collectively determined to avoid.
There are three things the American people don’t understand about the war in Iraq right now: (1) how difficult the surge was and how different it was from the previous four years of the war; (2) that the surge failed, judged on its own terms; and (3) that the war is not over. In fact, I suspect we might be only halfway through it, which is to say that President Obama’s war in Iraq may well be longer than George Bush’s war in Iraq, which was five years and ten months old when Bush left office.
It is particularly refreshing to hear a major, respected analyst of the war say that the surge has failed. Throughout the presidential campaign candidates on both sides spent so much time singing the praises of the surge that it became effectively impossible to question that received wisdom. Those of us who pointed out that the surge was supposed to have a military side and a political side and that while the former had been successful the latter had not were rarely heard. Even in hyper-liberal Vermont I could see the shock on people's faces when I made this point during talks or panel discussions.
Ricks' argument for why we are likely to remain in Iraq for a long time to come makes compelling, if unsettling, reading.
Also worth special attention are two items from the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. In this essay the always-compelling Robert Malley & Hussein Agha argue that the search for a workable Israeli-Palestinian peace will continue to fail if it continues to be driven by outsiders.
One of Bush's least noticed but most profound and pernicious legacies in the region might well turn out to have been this transformation of the concept of Palestinian statehood from among the more revolutionary to the more conservative, from inspiring to humdrum... For many in the US, the notion of such radical change often is reduced to the question of whether or not to talk to Hamas. That is a diversion. The challenge is whether Obama can speak to those for whom Hamas speaks. They are the people who have lost faith in America, its motivations, and every proposal it promotes.
The same issue of the Review also contains an excellent piece by Ahmed Rashid. Titled "Pakistan on the Brink" it picks up where Rashid's recent book Descent into Chaos leaves off.