WASHINGTON (JTA) — Not only is Barack Obama inheriting George W. Bush’s
Perhaps the most striking presence on the
Speaking generally, Obama hewed to the "change" bromides of a campaign that claimed to come to bury Bush’s legacies.
"In this uncertain world, the time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the opportunities embedded in those challenges," he said. "We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships. We will show the world once more that
Yet when he briefly detoured into specifics, introducing U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), his pick for secretary of state, Obama’s themes sounded familiar.
"There is much to do — from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to
The first three components of that four-pronged strategy are carry-overs from the Bush administration’s final years: Defuse Iran and
Obama’s priority list comes despite a growing chorus of voices that insists that the Israel-Palestinian track is intractable for now, needing management, not solutions. Those voices — including Dennis Ross, the
But the Israelis and the Palestinians at the table believe that Obama has their back and predict a deal within months.
"We’re very close and it’s time to make decisions," Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said last week after meeting with Bush.
Olmert made it clear that it was his impression that Obama would carry over the Bush administration’s emphasis on arriving at an agreement within the next few months.
"It’s like a relay race," the outgoing Israeli leader said. "The baton will be passed in an orderly, correct way."
Olmert believes a deal could be in place before he leaves office in March; he is stepping down to face corruption charges. That prediction was echoed by a top Palestinian negotiator, Maen Rashid Areikat, who told the Washington Times that the negotiators had arrived at a formula to circumvent perhaps the most intransigent obstruction to statehood — the control of the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists. Areikat told the Washington Times that a state would first be declared in the
Those are pipe dreams, said Sam Lewis, a former
"There is much more of an opportunity to make a breakthrough with
Another of Obama’s picks, Gen. James Jones for national security adviser, also implies an interest in carrying over Bush administration efforts to build a Palestinian security infrastructure. Jones, a former NATO commander, most recently monitored Palestinian and Israeli compliance with peace deals, with special attention paid to the creation of a Palestinian police force.
Jones was tough with both sides during his tenure, but his appointment has raised eyebrows in
During his NATO stint, Jones was known as friendly to
"Anytime you ask the Israelis to do something they don’t went to do, they’re resentful, it’s nothing other than normal business," Lewis said. "After eight years of the Israelis being treated very gently, the contrast was probably annoying to them. He’s a balanced guy, and that’s what you need."
Shoshana Bryen, the director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said the Jones appointment was reassuring because it signaled another consistency with the presidency: its second-term deference to experienced military opinion.
"Picking a Marine for almost anything is a good pick," said Bryen, whose organization cultivates close relations with all branches of the
That’s true as well of Obama’s pick for defense secretary: the incumbent, Robert Gates. Obama ran a campaign that derided Bush’s choices in
On Iran, there appears to be consistency, too. During the campaign, great focus was placed on Obama’s calls for stepped-up diplomatic outreach, but since defeating John McCain he has stressed the need for Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. On Monday, the president-elect hammered home the message again.
It’s a two-pronged approach that jibes with the Gates and Clinton picks. Clinton, Obama’s chief rival during the primaries, hewed to more hawkish
Ross, meanwhile, joined top former Bush administration officials in signing off in September on an especially tough blueprint on how to deal with
The proposal, called "Meeting the Challenge," was barely noticed in the media. It calls for stiffer sanctions, an end to uranium enrichment and outlines a military option that would have "more decisive results than the Iranian leadership realizes," although such an option would be a last resort.
Ross’ presence on Obama’s transitional Middle East policy team, as well as on the front page of a report that includes first-term Bush hawks such as Michael Rubin, Michael Makovsky and Steve Rademaker, has sent shudders through those in Washington who had hoped an Obama administration would stress outreach to Iran at a time when its hard-liners are showing signs of being in retreat.
Bryen said it was clear that Obama would eventually seek to expand the Bush administration’s recent, limited diplomatic entreaties to
"The incoming administration clearly believes there are approaches to
The one flag that may trouble some Jewish groups was the fourth leg of Obama’s foreign poliy strategy: the planned elevation of
Obama nominated Susan Rice, one of his top campaign advisers, to be the ambassador and has said she will serve at Cabinet level.
"She shares my belief that the U.N. is an indispensable and imperfect forum," he said.