The unsayable thing in contemporary domestic politics is that American influence in the world is neither limitless nor pure. But Obama grasps this, and sometimes the result of his politics of modesty has been disheartening. On issues of human rights—everywhere from Russia to China, from Iran to Zimbabwe—he has been, in public at least, conspicuously cautious. He has favored instead a double game of tempered public rhetoric and concerted diplomacy, and this has, at times, thwarted the desire for a clarion American voice.
It has also created among some a false impression that Obama has been too recessive in the Egyptian crisis, even though the President, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the veteran diplomat Frank Wisner, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all pressed Mubarak and his aides for a more rapid transition. But the United States has long ceased to be a puppet-master among the Arab states, if it ever was. The U.S., however, still has enormous influence over the most democratic country in the region. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands is hardly the only issue of moral, political, and strategic importance in the region—the dispute was barely a slogan on the streets of Tunis or Cairo—but there is no doubt that its swift and fair resolution, after forty-four years, is necessary not only to satisfy the demands of justice but to insure a future for Israel as a democracy. The Netanyahu government’s refusal to come to terms with the Palestinians, and its insistence on settlement building, have steadily undermined both the security and the essence of the state, which was founded as a refuge from dispossession. Israel has grave and legitimate concerns about Hamas and Hezbollah on its borders, to say nothing of the intentions of Tehran, but its prospects will not be enhanced by an adherence to the status quo. That was true before the uprising in Cairo, and will remain true after it. Judgment—whether rendered by gods or by people—can be postponed but not forestalled.
It's not often I agree with David Remnick on anything except Russia, but he makes an excellent point here.