From an article in Wednesday's Guardian, columnist Jonathan Freedland offers a different perspective on Obama and the Middle East, beginning with this nice opening metaphor:

It's lucky Barack Obama has people to carry his bags these days, because when he arrived in Israel last night he brought with him a whole lot of baggage.

Jump the fold with me to read more.

Freedland does a good job of laying out the various views of Obama among Jews and Palestinians, and their supporters, both here and abroad. Then he gets to the meat of his argument, with another great metaphor:

Which one of these men is the real Barack Obama? The answer is neither. For one thing, both figures were always holograms, projections from fevered, partisan imaginations.

So how, then, is Barack Obama "just what the Middle East needs"? Freedland lists three things Obama will do that make him both different from McCain and better for Middle East peace.

First, Obama will today show a basic respect for the Palestinians that somehow eluded his Republican opponent: the Democrat will visit Ramallah, which McCain skipped when he came to the region in March. Second, Obama is honest enough to admit that the Israel-Palestine conflict does at least contribute to instability in the region, while McCain sees no source of trouble except "radical Islamic terrorism".
   Above all, Obama promises to do, once more, the work that a US administration alone can do - engaging hands-on, directly and every day, in shepherding the two sides through negotiations and towards peace.

Finally, Freedland notes that Obama brought with him Dennis Ross, the "veteran mediator" from both Bush Pere and Clinton that one colleague calls "the diplomatic equivalent of Michael Jordan working the Middle East." Freedland concludes

With Ross at his side, Obama is signalling that we should forget the myth-making: an Obama presidency will be about active, engaged diplomacy, between Israelis and Palestinians, between Israel and Syria, and beyond. And if anyone doubts that this is what the world desperately needs after the past seven and a half years, then they haven't been paying attention.

An excellent bit of analysis, in my book, and a solid recommendation for Obama. Once again, a mature, realistic, even-handed approach seems so refreshing, and so welcome. Here's hoping Obama and his determined, clear-eyed approach get a chance come November.

Originally posted to Bruce in Louisville on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 05:52 PM PDT.

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