Ellen Ratner is the White House correspondent and bureau chief for the Talk Radio News service. She is also Washington bureau chief and political editor for Talkers Magazine. In addition, Ratner is a news analyst at the Fox News Channel.More ↓Less ↑
By press accounts, President Obama had a good trip to the Middle East. Much of the press accounts about his trip were complimentary and a few of the pieces were glowing. This was the first trip to Israel of his presidency, and there were no missed public relations opportunities, especially in Israel. He also made a trip to the West Bank and visited Bethlehem, as well as Petra in Jordan. His trip made many people quite happy.
What is fascinating, however, is the press speculation as to why he made the trip now and, in fact, why he made the trip at all. Various theories abounded and, like a the famous projective psychological test known as “the inkblot,” many journalists had their own interpretation based on their experiences and understanding of the Mideast.
The Israeli media had their speculations, and the American media had theirs. Most of the Israeli media believed that this was about the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, given the famous past encounter between both men. Their ideas focused on the idea that there had to be some reparative movement made by President Obama. Israel is the most trusted ally in a region of the world that is important to the interests of our country. Having a bad relationship between the two leaders can’t be good, and the Israeli press honed in on that aspect.
Why he made the trip received more wide-ranging speculation from the Western press. Caroline Glick, writing for Real Clear Politics, thought one reason for the trip may have been to energize the political left in Israel and to “undermine the legitimacy of the Israeli government.” Glick adds, “First, he could be strengthening forces to help them pressure the government to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to convince the Palestinian Authority to renew negotiations and accept and Israeli peace offer.” She also thought this same “unelected” group may pressure the Israeli government to withdraw from Judea and Samaria.
Many Western journalists focused on Iran. Was President Obama in Israel to stop them from unilaterally taking action to prevent Iran from getting a bomb? Was it a security update or another nefarious worm that the U.S. and Israeli government were going to plant to put the development of nuclear weapons by Iran on hold? Iran was definitely top of the hit parade on the list of reasons why Western journalists thought he had decided to make the journey.
Of course, there was quite a bit of spoken and written word about Syria. The timing of the New York Times was interesting at the very least when it reported that the CIA was going to be putting more resources into Syria. A leak or good reporting? If it was a leak, then what did the timing of the leak mean about what the president was trying to accomplish on his Middle East visit?
The most common speculation was about the possible peace process. President Obama is looking toward his legacy. He doesn’t have to worry about being re-elected, and his wife is most likely never going to run for political office. He was able to get done what President Clinton tried to do as his first goal by introducing in 1994 “health care that is always there.” President Clinton couldn’t get health care reform done, but President Obama did. President Clinton took a keen interest in the peace process. He knew every settlement and who occupied it. What would happen in the legacy department if President Obama pulled off what President Clinton could not? What would it mean to the overall evaluation of his presidency if he could accomplish on two fronts what Clinton could not?
We might never know the real reason for this trip until the books start to tell the back story 10 years from now. It has kept the press occupied this week wondering why Obama made this trip now. Too bad we don’t have some Las Vegas-style odds on his real reason for going and could verify the bets on the real reasons soon. We might have some very rich journalists.