Boarding the flotilla and killing activists was a really be move by Israel. So far the dead do not have names, but we'll learn their identities and stories over the next week and their names will be connected to the morally indefensible siege Israel is laying on Gaza. Their names will also connect to the Egypt's morally indefensible cooperation with the siege that the US Congress purchases from Hosni Mubarak on Israel's behalf.
I'd like to believe that this episode will have the galvanizing and symbolic effect the Sharpeville massacre had in building the anti-Apartheid movement around 30 years before that institution fell, or the Soweto uprising about 15 years before the end of Apartheid. It is too early to tell, and my own inclinations probably lead me to overestimate the historical impact an event like this will have. However there certainly is potential for this to mark the beginning of an era. If it does not, it will at least guide perceptions of the United States for some time to come.
A large proportion of the good will Barack Obama has gained with the Muslim world since becoming president now hangs in the balance. Barack Obama is different than George W. Bush because there was a plausible narrative that Bush was unusually hostile towards Muslims for a US president. With Obama having the opposite narrative, that he is as understanding of the Muslim world as any US president could be, a bad response on Obama's part will have a longer and stronger impact on the Muslim image of the United States than Bush could have.
Obama's first response was absolutely terrible. It is worse than I would have considered plausible before I saw it.
This morning between 10:00 and 10:15 AM CDT, the President spoke by phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He said he understood the Prime Minister's decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with today's events. They agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity. The President expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals. The President also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible."Many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals"? What is that?
It seems most likely that Obama will strike a tone in this that is primarily supportive of Israel and the US image in the Middle East is going to sink, nearly permanently, in the Middle East as a result of this episode. Obama could take an anti-Israel tone, express outrage that the boat was boarded violently and, while confirming that he will not abandon Israel, express that the US considers this unacceptable and that there will be some consequence for it. If he was to do so he would be furthering the idea of US independence from Israel and make it easier for those inclined to cooperate with the United States to make public gestures to that end. Unfortunately, it seems Obama is unable to do so.
The primary issue that prevents Obama from matching the outrage of nearly every non-Jewish person in the region is that Obama has bought into the idea of that the Gaza siege is a good thing. It is not defensible, and Obama rarely talks about it publicly, but Obama's vision of Abbas accepting what are essentially the Bantustans Nelson Mandela rejected on behalf the the Palestinians depends on Abbas' opposition being weakened, and the siege is, in Obama's mind, a way to weaken Hamas.
It is a disgusting way to think. The people going hungry and the medical complications this hunger causes will be worth it if they lead to the Palestinians accepting a Jewish state. Yes, it is a war crime to punish civilians even for executing war against Israel, much less for voting for a party that does not accept that there must be a state with a Jewish political majority, but Obama believes his vision of two states requires this. This is, with no exaggeration, exactly what Obama means when he says the United States is committed to steering the situation toward "justice" in the Middle East.
The United States pays heavy costs for assuming the responsibility of keeping the Middle East safe for there to be a majority Jewish state for the 5 or so million Jews currently in Palestine. The costs the US is forced to pay, from cooperation in isolating Iran, to cooperation in administering Iraq to the price the US colonial clients in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt demand increase when there Israel commits atrocities as it did this morning.