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President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo will give voice to a turning point in U.S. foreign policy - not because of what he is expected to say about the peace process, but because of the change in direction. He aims to maintain order and stability, not educate the world and spread liberty and democracy. The choice of the stage is no coincidence: Obama will express support for President Hosni Mubarak's regime and tell the world that he has buried the doctrine of former president George W. Bush, who wanted to transform the Arab states into democracies.
Obama will no doubt pay lip service to human rights to mollify his liberal supporters at home, but there is no reason to get excited. He prefers a "strong regime" and a pro-American one, rather than undermining stability and risking a transformation of Egypt into an Islamic democracy. This is good news for the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states and even Syria. Obama is not a crusader or evangelist. To him, advancing universal values is of secondary importance.
His foreign policy is directed at a single goal: a strong America as the leader of a stable world order. The key word in his lexicon is interests. In his speech at the beginning of April in Prague, where he reconciled with the Europeans, he presented his ranking of importance: first "common interests" and only later "shared values." In the public part of his White House meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month, Obama repeated the word "interests" 13 times. The words "values" or "rights" were not mentioned.
Welcome to Realistan: Anyone who wants to understand Obama should definitely read Henry Kissinger's book "Diplomacy." As an admirer of Metternich, Bismarck and Stalin, Kissinger is the prophet of realism in American foreign policy and a harsh critic of the "spreading of values" of the school of Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.
Obama, in the spirit of Kissinger, aims to promote U.S. national interests and stabilize an international balance of power in which America is the first among equals. To the realists, this is the proven way to achieve long periods of peace and stability.
The realistic approach is the key to the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu. The president correctly defined the order of priorities in his conversation with the prime minister: Iran first and ultimately the Palestinians, but with a clear connection between them. First the prevention - or postponement - of an Israeli-Iranian war, which is liable to embroil the United States. After that comes a diplomatic process, which will crystallize the regional coalition against Iran under American leadership. Truly a classic of power diplomacy.
Obama's demand of Netanyahu to freeze the Jewish settlements in the West Bank does not derive from concern for the Palestinians whose lands are being stolen, or from opposition to violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The motive is pragmatic: a diplomacy built on give-and-take, while Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas must receive something if they are going to stay in office. An Israeli concession on the settlements seems the most accessible and effective way; it also tests Netanyahu's political loyalty to Obama.
Netanyahu has been quick to adapt to the new world; at the meeting of the Likud Knesset faction on Monday he explained that dealing with Iran is more important than preserving the outposts - as Obama had explained to him: An outpost in exchange for Natanz. His colleagues reacted with anger, just as they responded to former prime minister Ariel Sharon when he told them the thought that it's possible to keep 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a bad thing for Israel.
In the same spirit, Netanyahu withdrew his objections to the appointment of Egyptian Farouk Hosni as the next head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, despite his anti-Israeli statements in the past. Netanyahu preferred Israel's interest in strengthening Mubarak to preserving "national honor."
If he continues like this, Netanyahu will have to find inner strength and political cunning like Sharon in the inevitable conflict with his "natural partners" on the right. He's not there yet, and his crucial moment has not arrived. But after his trips to Sharm el-Sheikh and Washington, even Netanyahu is beginning to hum the realist tune. And it is noteworthy that on the day after Netanyahu's visit, Obama hosted Kissinger at the White House.
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