Mitchell's Appointment Marks Change
Editor’s Note: In his first two full days in office, Barack Obama has fulfilled some of his most popular campaign promises by reversing a host of George W. Bush’s controversial policies, including Obama’s ban on torture and the ordered phase-out of the Guantanamo prison.
However, in this guest essay, former Democratic congressional aide Brent Budowsky says one of Obama’s most encouraging acts – in breaking with Bush’s policies – may be the choice of former Sen. George Mitchell as Middle East peace negotiator:
In the most important single move for Middle East peace in this decade, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are sending former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East diplomacy.
Those who claimed Obama would wait regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not understand either Obama or the world. The world cannot wait. Obama will not wait.
As he promised during the campaign, Obama started on Day One to change American policy and seek a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Consider what Barack Obama did in his opening hours as President. Torture by our nation has ended. Guantánamo will be closed within the year.
The President spent his first day in office calling leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel for starters and now has announced that he will send Mitchell to the Middle East. This is change, a very big change indeed, as promised.
The road to peace in the Middle East will be long, winding, hard, challenging and uphill. The crises, conflicts and torment of the Middle East did not begin overnight and will not end overnight.
But the long road begins by taking a first step, and the first step is an American President who is fully committed and engaged in the mission of Middle East peace.
When President George W. Bush first took office, the word went forth that he would not be engaged. In 2003, when Bush announced his "road map" for Middle East peace, he described himself as "the master of low expectations," which immediately signaled that his low expectations would be met.
By contrast, Obama has started immediately calling leaders, ending controversial policies, and naming a world-class, first-rate special envoy in George Mitchell.
History will judge Obama's inauguration as a great inflection point for the Middle East as well as the United States.
There will be moves to open doors to Iran and to be more active in soothing relations between Pakistan and India. There will be an appeal to the world community by ending torture and closing Guantánamo. There will be new programs to reduce poverty, misery and disease for people through the Middle East, including and especially Gaza.
And above all is George Mitchell as über-negotiator for Middle East peace.
Mitchell is a world-class heavyweight with major clout in Washington and with leaders around the world who know him well. He succeeded brilliantly in negotiating an end to the carnage in Ireland, which seemed so intractable at the time, and now seems, only a few years later, a distant memory.
Mitchell was able to use his diplomatic talents and persuasions to broker one of the hardest conflicts in the world, in Ireland, and has a history of calling on all parties in the Middle East to make concessions for peace, which augurs well for his ability to be an honest and effective broker.
The mission in the Middle East will be hard, tough, against great odds. But for the first time in this decade, America has a President willing to put his prestige and clout behind the mission and a negotiating heavyweight in Mitchell with a history of success and the clout to make things possible, which is the precondition for any success in this conflict-torn region.
The page is turned.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. He can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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