15 September 2011

Tell It Like It Is

Why the hell is everyone so mad at Obama over Israel?  From where I sit, the bulk of my fury is toward Netanyahu and Abbas.

While it annoys me to no end that after his famous Cairo speech, Obama didn't get on a helicopter and fly directly to Jerusalem to demonstrate to Israelis his sensitivity to their concerns of an increasingly hostile and unstable Arab world, it is far more obvious that Netanyahu's obstructionism (diplomatic humiliations, recriminations about self-hating Jews in the White House, continued settlement expansion) and Abbas' refusal to talk and negotiate during the one meaningful settlement freeze Bibi actually did offer each adds up to a far greater crisis than any messianic hopes American Jews and the opportunistic Republican candidates can pin on the President.

Let me be clear:  Obama has disappointed me greatly.  The bold rhetorical candidate of 2008 has been far to conciliatory toward a Republican strategy of the scorched earth approach they have taken to his presidency.  He's never really gotten out in front to hammer away--relentlessly--at the total disaster he inherited domestically and internationally.  In trying to be nice and mature toward those who would not only stab him in the back but shoot him in the face, he has lost stature and credibility in the hearts and minds of his once adoring base.  Iraq and Afghanistan would likely see far greater U.S. casualties if we were fighting a war soldiered by the Selective Service; as it is, the President inherited a war-dead list of nearly 4000 U.S. soldiers that shows little sign of ending.  He wins praise among national security experts for his progress in the war on terror and rooted out Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders (an achievement that eluded his predecessor) and yet somehow he allows himself to be painted into the corner of the wimpy, evil, closeted Muslim Manchurian leader, bent on evil and America's destruction.  A few quips at the Press Dinner in DC shouldn't be his only well-publicized salvos of self-defense.

On the Congressional front, he had a year to take full advantage of a majority in his party being in charge.  But the lack of discipline among those in party's leadership, combined with the White House's inability to push through legislation before the Republican machine set to its paranoid fantasies and usual dark arts of conspiracy theories and wacky packages of voodoo economics, had him losing Congress and creating the outlandish scenario in which comical characters like Perry, Romney and Bachmann (with Palin in the wings) are setting the terms of debate.

The national debt was Bush's.  The stagnant economy was Bush's.  The rising rates of joblessness were Bush's.  The intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush's.  And the Tea Party, as it so happens, is more extreme and mired in fantasy than the worst elements in Bush's White House.  But we're supposed to buy this hokum that this is all President Obama's fault?

This is ludicrous at best; potentially disastrous at worst.

And still, somehow, in the midst of it all, the President was supposed to do what no other American President had done--take the mediocrity of Abbas, barely capable of commanding a deeply divided Palestinian society and the most blatantly and diplomatically disrespectful Israeli Prime Minister in modern memory--somehow, in the midst of it all, he's supposed to get them to kiss and make up and build two states for two people?

And by the way, military and intelligence experts in Israeli nearly universally agree that Obama has *strengthened* the U.S. and Israel alliance.  And last week, when the true face of the Arab Spring rose up and attacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Obama was immediately engaged in defense of Israel.  It's a sad statement of our rapidly diminishing collective attention spans that these kinds of facts die in a news cycle, only to be replaced by lies and hysteria.

So while journalists and experts wring their hands about Weiner's seat in Queens and the Jewish vote in the upcoming election, I will still pull the lever in November 2012 for President Obama.  He has disappointed me on a number of occasions; he has not fought hard enough for the middle class and he's stepped down from a daily engagement against the character assassins who are out to get him; he has missed opportunities.  He has a great sense of humor that unfortunately, he has not used enough to his advantage.  But the mess he inherited--including an Arab-Israeli conflict that has remained unresolved for one hundred years--will take decades to clean up.

He can start to win people back by telling the truth and yes, it's never too late, by getting on a plane, having a beer in Tel Aviv, and then going to the Prime Minister's house in Jerusalem and telling him like it is.

I'm no prophet but if he did that, these diminishing poll numbers would go through the roof.


Old First said...

I'm, as usual, with you.

Dan O. said...

If you were the President, wouldn't you worry about what snub Bibi would have in store for you when you came to town? The President's popularity couldn't be lower at home or in Israel.

You've done a lot here to dance around race. I've found it deeply distressing that our country is not, in fact, ready for a non-white President. I believe the disrespect shown President Obama at home is a reflection of this. (Once the President gets really defiant, he'll be the angry black man, something white liberal critics conveniently forget when they get to be talking head, or post on a blog.) I think that Bibi's willingness to pile on at exactly the worst time evidenced that he believes that Israel is not ready for a non-white American President. Bibi didn't worry about diminishing the American Presidency, because he believes his constituents understand it as already diminished by The Other who occupies it. And why shouldn't he with birtherism still rampant among Israelis. (Or is that not proof enough of bigotry?)

I believe that President Obama feels the same thing, would never say it, but - as a result - knows that the risk of an Israel trip is far too great. Once there, he'll be given a choice to be Bibi's stooge, or be embarrassed. It's not worth it, particularly before an election, an election Bibi has already bet Obama will lose.

The President can't respond in kind, and acknowledge only Minister Livni. So he's got no choice but to be silent and hope that Kadima is able to turn J14 against Likud. That's the hope, and The President has got to stay out of it like he did elsewhere during other political protests in the Middle East.

Without an Israeli rejection of the Likud/Yisrael Beteinu coalition, typified by Danon and Lieberman, there is no Israeli partner for peace anyway. That is why, strategically, Abbas is right to go to the U.N. to try to do anything to alter the dynamics of both his own and the Israeli political situation. It is also correct for President Obama to veto the request in the Security Council, which he will do.

It's just a mistake to criticize the President for giving ground while telling him to give ground. The Israeli governing coalition engages in the same racial politics as The President's domestic opponents. You want him to give in to that? You, further, want the President to legitimize the current Israeli administration in the midst of an opposition political movement, a political movement whose success would increase the chances of movement towards a two-state solution? Really?

(Or would you have preferred the President to visit Israel earlier, perhaps right on the heels of Biden getting snubbed? Unless, I suppose, you think that the President should now support the building of new settlements... Do you?)

I'm piling on you, but my disappointment with my fellow liberals is growing pretty steadily. You're dissing the Dude who passed Universal Healthcare, did away with DADT, and is working steadily to end the two disastrous wars foisted on him. Have some respect.

Andy Bachman said...

Ease up on the gas, there, Dan. I don't want him to legitimate an intransigent Israeli government or a dug-in and duplicitous P.A. But that doesn't mean it was a mistake to skip Jerusalem after Cairo. In his efforts to seem "neutral," he lost the populace in Israel, which has only strengthened the Right against him. That's my point. Obama's legislative victories are impressive; then again, one could argue his bank bailout had no teeth; the tax-cuts extension is a joke; he waited too long on health care; and now he's scrambling in attempt for another late game rally when he no longer has a majority in Congress.

As for race and how it factors in--I am more suspicious of certain Congressional leaders than I am of Israelis. I think his "above it all" demeanor is what Netanyahu exploits; as for certain Tea Party voices and those coming up from the South of the U.S.--you may have a point on race.

Dan O. said...

Rabbi, it's really hard not to get upset hearing this right-wing argument from a professed Liberal Zionist. It gives grist to the Nationalist's mill. They will say, even liberal pro-Palestinian Rabbi Andy Bachman says...

It's also troubling because the argument is so fatuous. It would have been counterproductive for the President to follow up his Cairo speech with a a visit to Israel. That would have rendered the Cairo speech dead on arrival. I don't like it any more than you do, but that doesn't change the fact of the dynamic between Muslims in the Middle East and Israel.

(Do you think that President Obama would have had been allowed the opportunity to speak directly to the Egyptian people in Cairo if he were to follow it with a visit to Israel in near succession? Again, come on.)

The President's goals were, among other things (e.g. little matters of trying to end a few wars), to help rebuild the PA's woeful political capital without which a peace deal is impossible. If you don't like the goal, then fine. Say so (actually I think you just did? Please clarify. If not the PA, then who?). If not, don't think that you're smarter than the President. Criticize the goal, not the tactics.

Given the evidence to date, it is hard for me to understand how people explain the current negative outlook for the President by appealing to his tactical stupidity. In some cases, I believe racism explains this (see http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/but-black-people-govern-like-this/245164/). In other cases, people just don't endorse his goals.

Andy Bachman said...

I just graduated from a state school; I know I'm not smarter than the President, Dan. But I think you're wrong on Cairo & Jerusalem and calling my argument "right-wing" or "fatuous" is not really on point. We can argue over tactics. That he "couldn't" go to Jerusalem after Cairo because it would have undermined his credibility with Egypt only proves the broader point that the the instability of the Arab world right now is as much a threat to Israel as the construction of West Bank Settlements.

Dan O. said...

Leaving aside the specious relation between state schools and intelligence, you reject the President's goals, not his tactics. You think the President shouldn't effectively reach out to the Arab world, and that he should be silent on the settlements. Moreover, he should show submissiveness to Bibi at the earliest opportunity. (Maybe they can announce new settlement construction together - five homes for each UN GA vote to recognize Palestine?) At the same time, The President should be aggressively liberal and confrontational on domestic issues. Where do I have it wrong?

Because it seems that you're complaining that the President isn't Anthony Weiner. Maybe he could run for President?

Andy Bachman said...

Oy va Voy. What are you talking about? I don't reject his goals. I support his goals. Look through this blog--though again, I just went to Wisconsin, not Harvard or Yale--I support fully the President's criticism of Settlement construction and expansion. I was outraged at how Joe Biden was treated when he was in Jerusalem. I'm merely saying I don't fully trust the Arab world at this point, after all, they seem to be holding peace with Israel in abeyance, expelling diplomats and destroying an embassy--all in the name of helping Palestinians, while in reality, that's only one of their stated goals. Anthony Shadid makes pretty clear today that the emerging alliance with Turkey and Egypt may be dreaming of nothing less than a new Ottoman Empire. It's a pretty dangerous time. With regard to Anthony Weiner, I really have no idea what you're getting at.

Dan O. said...

I don't trust the Arab world. I don't trust Bibi or Avigdor Lieberman. I do, however, trust our President. I think I'm justified in all of these positions. And I think you've given no reason to doubt any of them.

You urge the President to do something that would be very silly to do given Bibi's recent history. And you urged it was a mistake not to do something it clearly would have been very silly to do in visiting Israel after Cairo.

So, why should he go? To make Israelis happy? I'm pretty sure The American President is considerably lower on secular Israelis' radars than the price of cottage cheese, average debt loads, and the fact that their kids still have service obligations. Religious Israelis are lost to him. So, what's the upside? It won't work.

Andy Bachman said...

We elected him to think and act differently. Not going to Jerusalem was conventional wisdom. Having spent the last five summers in Jerusalem, the Israelis want him to visit. Not just Netanyahu. The people. Go back and read Jeffrey Goldberg's campaign interview with Obama--he speaks fairly passionately about Zionism (and Philip Roth.) That's who I'm looking for these days.

Dan O. said...

No, we didn't do any such thing. I voted, and canvassed, for the guy because he presented conventional wisdom, not the half-baked rot we'd been getting for 8 years. Both John Edwards and Hilary Clinton both had more creative policy positions. Neither would ever have gotten a lick done. (I believed that now, and then.)

It's starting to get ridiculous. People criticized him on Health Care, then he gets it done. People criticize him on bin Laden, then he got it done. People criticized him on Iraq, and we're getting out. People criticized him on Libya, then he got it done. People criticized him on DADT... People criticize him on the economy, and now that's very much a work in progress. As is Guantanamo, which is one thing I'm distressed with.

I'm very interested to see what shakes out of the UN vote. I'm sure the President has plans for all contingencies, each of which take serious and appropriate care for the security of Israel.

Because, again, the conventional wisdom guy is the guy I want.

I'm not going to say my perception is just different from yours. It is. But Obama is the guy I voted for, not the guy you thought you voted for.

Here's a domestic example. If Obama loses the next election, he'll let the Bush tax cuts expire as a lame duck. If he wins the next election, he'll let the Bush tax cuts expire with a mandate. Either way the tax cuts will expire. If you had it your way, the tax cuts would have expired, but he'd definitely lose the next election, probably to some President Elect Nutso McCrazypants.

That's the difference between the guy I voted for, and the guy you think you voted for.