Commentary: Open Letter to President Obama on Middle East Policy

May 20, 2011

Murray, KY – President Barack Obama on Thursday (May 19, 2011) outlined what White House officials called a "major address" on foreign policy in the Middle East, which included U.S. support for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before 1967. Response has ranged from "just more political slogans" to "good enough." Commentator and foreign policy analyst Dr. Brian Clardy asks for specifics, and poses five key and critical questions to President Obama in this open letter.

Dear Mr. President:

I watched your recent State Department speech on Middle East Policy with a great deal of interest and concern. In this critical region over the last six months, there have been revolutionary changes that have occurred that would have been inconceivable a year ago.

Tyrants in Egypt and Tunisia are on the ash heap of history and new populist and democratic breeze is blowing in this our Spring of transformative change. Yet old issues remain. In that spirit Mr. President, I would like to pose these key and critical questions to you:

What specific policies to you want to put in place to provide incentives to bring Abu Mazen and Bibi Netanyahu to the table in the spirit of Oslo and the Wye River Memorandum of 1998. Unless the Palestinians and the Israelis can come to a consensus on settlements, the right of return, Jerusalem), and water sharing rights, there can be no lasting solution.

We will keep putting off those issues as Oslo CLEARLY DID....and this will give some extremist a chance to derail the process. Will you become personally involved in the same manner as Presidents Carter and Clinton did to varying degrees of success?

While you have recognized the need for a viable two state solution, will you include a place for Hamas at the negotiating table? It is vital that the political wing MUST be included in any talks. You briefly alluded to this in your speech.

To freeze out the moderate elements of Hamas would be stupid and counterproductive. However, the Palestinians MUST signal that they have no intention of threatening Israel now or ever, nor aid others in doing so. This brings me to my next point.

Should circumstances on the ground merit it by Fall, do you plan on raising the specter of Syria as a vital part of your speech to the United Nations General Assembly?

And in the interim, how active will you be in crafting international consensus to make these sanctions meaningful?

While Iran can never be allowed to have a nuclear program, what specific policies do you have to engage the broader world community in making this a top priority?

The P5+1 talks must go forward with renewed vigor, and your Administration must also be willing to reach out to moderate Iranians who are willing to forgo this dangerous policy and bring Iran back into the fold of responsible nations.

What specific policies will your Administration put in place to engage responsible leaders like Jordan's King Abdullah?

Will your Administration work actively in bringing about an atmosphere that will allow a Second Madrid Conference that will allow Arabs, Palestinians, and Israelis to air their differences? I think Madrid made Oslo possible...the good that came out of it anyway. It can happen again.

Mr. President, this is a historic opportunity to stabilize the region, and this chance may never come around again. The hurts and the mistrust between people is too deep and too raw, but the events of the last year have become a significant game changer. I wish you luck as you pursue this ambitious and bold initiative.

Dr. Brian Clardy is an Assistant Professor of History and teaches 20th Century United States diplomatic history at Murray State University. He is also the host of Caf Jazz on Thursday nights.