Crisis in Gaza? Not for Obama or Clinton

"Israeli aircraft and troops attacked Palestinian positions in northern Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 46 people and wounding more than 100 in the deadliest day of fighting in more than a year."

"Hamas says Israel bombs Gaza Interior Ministry"

"Gaza residents are told to boil drinking water as purifying chlorine runs out"

"Escalating fighting renews threats of an Israeli invasion of Gaza"

"Rice heads to Israel"

That's the news of the day.

The next president will have to deal with the reality of a humanitarian, political and military crisis in the Middle East that grows worse with each passing year because of the internationally recognized reality that the United States -- while profoundly influential in the region -- fails to operate as an honest or effective player.

So what is the response from the Barack Obama campaign on this desperate day?

"Barack makes a surprise stop at the Sombrero Festival in Brownsville, Texas," announces his website.

And what of the Hillary Clinton campaign?

"Our campaign announced that we've raised approximately $35 million in contributions for the month of February," declares her website.

Search as one might at mid-day, but you won't find a statement on the exploding crisis in the Middle East.

Of course these candidates are locked in a serious competition that may be heading for some sort of conclusion with Tuesday's Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont primaries. But couldn't they at least bother to appear interested in the challenges that one of them might face as president?

None of us should be unrealistic. It would be ridiculous at this point to expect Obama or Clinton to display the concern for the plight of innocent Palestinians evidenced by Jimmy Carter... or even by the recently-engaged George Bush.

But failing to even discuss the burgeoning crisis in the Middle East sends a signal that should trouble people on all sides of the debate.

Carter told me a few months ago that the only way for a president to make progress toward peace in the region is to begin working on Middle East issues even before taking the oath of office.

If knowledge, concern and evidence of determination are not on display from the start, said the president who forged functional relations between Israel and Egypt, it will be impossible to advance the arduous process of peacemaking.

That Obama and Clinton are not inclined to look up from their campaigning for long enough to address an international crisis is probably to be expected. But that doesn't make it any less unsettling. And if their current disengagement foreshadows things to come, then the talk of "change" that has so energized the 2008 presidential race will almost certainly turn out to have been just that: talk.

John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

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