Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A little insight into our President

So occasionally you get a glimpse of who a person really is. A couple weeks ago, Israeli PM Netanyahu met with President Obama. They had a little session for the media where they sat on large high-backed puffy chairs and fielded questions together while leaning towards one another as if having a tete-a-tete. Whatever. At one point, a reporter asked if there was linkage between Iranian negotiations and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Obama sort of took the question abstractly and suggested that if there was any "causal linkage" at all, it ran from the peace process to the Iranian nuclear negotiations (his argument that solving the Palestinian/Israeli dispute will lead to reduced tensions, etc. Netanyahu gently corrected him - so gently you barely noticed - to dispel the use of the word "linkage."

Mr. Obama is not a foreign policy expert. Apparently he didn't know that "linkage" is an incredibly loaded word both in nuclear negotiations and particularly in the context of Arab-Israeli negotiations. I think by his second term, Bill Clinton would have known that "linkage" was a code word. Obama didn't. I'm surprised I didn't see this remarked upon elsewhere, but I may just have missed it. So this showed me about Obama's lack of foreign policy experience.
At this White House meeting, I thought I could see Netanyahu realizing that Barack Obama could easily go "off the reservation." If an American president were to begin thinking afresh about US-Israeli relations, it could indeed by quite disturbing for Israeli expectations. The rhetoric of the past fifty years has served to ensnare and entrap all the participants into webs from which they do not extricate themselves. When every word is fraught with meaning, real communication stops.

But his answer, broad and theoretical, yet turning on the use of a word, was also telling. He really does think like a trained legal scholar. I am not projecting too much when I say it was pretty obvious to me that he was taking the question as if he was at oral argument. That's also interesting to me. I suspect he reponds well to that sort of discourse.

What surprised me the most was this: Had the word linkage been a legal term of art, like "standing" or "jurisdiction," he would not have blithely used it without a host of caveats. Yet out of his field, he lumbered in verbally where angels fear to tread. I get the impression that Obama thinks he's capable of understanding things such as foreign policy without specific training or expertise. This may run to other kinds of policy areas as well, and likely does. Now, it is a bad thing for a President to lack intellectual curiosity and simply defer to experts (see Reagan, Bush I, Bush II). It is a good thing to be open to thinking, debating, and being willing to examine timeworn customs afresh. It is a very good thing to propose reimagining policy, indeed the whole world, from first principles. That is the great virtue of youth.

But it is also a bit dangerous to assume that superior intellect and reasoning capacity is a substitute for learning and experience. That is the hubris of youth. Most of the time, I see that President Obama is wise in knowing how and what to learn from wiser people. But he still has this greenness about him. Second-term Obama will have gray hair.


Pombat said...

Why is "linkage" such a loaded word? What does it mean in this context?

And did Obama really misuse the word, or was he pretending to misuse as a way to get a subtle point across to Netanyahu? (hard to tell without more info on what "linkage" means in this context, I also haven't seen this interview/question session/whatever)

Very little media attention here on Obama/Middle East/etc (India accusing Australia of racism due to student bashings is our current flavour of the month), but what we have had seems to show him having a rather different view of Israel to previous US administrations. A view more along the lines of "you people are not infallible saints nor victims, you have your own part to play in fixing all this, and we know what you've been doing". Which looks good to me - if the US is glowering at Israel, telling it to pull its socks up, stop blaming everyone else and help fix the problems in that area, starting with Israel/Palestine, rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder and denying that Israel could ever do anything wrong, it makes it that much harder for Israel to defend itself against other critics with shrill anti-semitism calls.

[note: my views of the Israel/Palestine problem:
1. Complete mess, created by many countries
2. Both sides have committed wrongs
3. Compromise is necessary to fix it all, we can guarantee not everyone will be happy with the solution
4. "Playing the race card" is a d!ck move (to borrow from Jon Stewart)
5. All races/religions need to learn to share, and no country should be 100% homogenous
6. Basic human rights - for all - should be the top consideration]

Raised By Republicans said...

There was another moment that caught my attention. Obama said something along the lines of "As President of the United States I will approach this situation from the point of view the interests of my country just as Prime Minister Netanyahu will persue his country's interests." This could be code for "you could be on your own Israel."

Past administrations (especially the Bush II administration) have been reluctant to allow any daylight between the US and Israeli interests.

Raised By Republicans said...

In my view the biggest single thing holding up an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is not international or the attitude of the American government at all. Rather it is that both the Palestinian and Israeli regimes are so diffused and unstable that neither is in a position to make a deal stick in the medium term even if they made one.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Linkage means generally "progress on X will be held hostage to progress on Y." It also has been specifically used in a variety of contexts in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process. The most salient is whether the peace with palestinians is linked to peace with other Arab states.

USwest said...

LTG, I doubt Obama was being casual. What you witnesses was a difference of opinion and strategy in how each nation see the peace process playing out. And as International Relations degree holder, you're on my turf now, and I believe there is a linkage, right through Hamas and Hezbollah.

Palestine is torn geographically between the West Bank and Gaza and politically between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas is funded by Iran and is Hezbollah in Lebanon. The lack of a Palestinian state fuels much of the politics in the Middle East, the situation with Iran in particular. It gives Iran a more "valid" reason to attack Israel through proxies. Ask any Middle East scholar, and they will tell you that peace in the Middle East, reach to Iran is dependent on peace in Israel and Palestine. Get a viable Palestinian state, and you neuter Iran by making Hamas and Hezbollah less important.

Israel is prepared to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities and they have been running nationwide air raid drills should they be attached by Iran or its proxies. Only the US is holding them back from acting. Their finger is twitching on the trigger. The US, therefore, may be making some quiet concessions to Israel in the peace process with the Palestinians- such as settlement building.

Add to this, as RBR alluded, the cleavages in Israel. Israel is torn between its far right and moderate elements. Judaism has its extremists too and they have seats in the Knesset.

Also, Obama's out reach to the Arab world is making Israel uncomfortable, to be sure. It is in Israel's interest to deny any "linkage", but that just ain't so.

Raised By Republicans said...

I sometimes think that there are a lot of political leaders in the Arab countries that want the conflict to continue. It's like LTG often says about Republicans and abortion. If they ever actually banned abortions, Republicans would be robbed of one of their main political rallying cries. Same with these tyrants (and that they are) in the Arab world. Without the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to cry about and use to distract domestic opposition, they would be forced to confront their own failures of government - and there are many of those!

USWest said...

Dead on, RBR. I have been saying for a while now that the only reason this conflict persists is that the Arabs and Israelis haven't found it in their interest to get peace. They can us it to whip or cajole the US. And it feeds much of the fundamentalism in the region. It gives fundamentalists a "cause".

In addition, if there was peace, could Israel justify getting $3bil in aid from the US every year plus all the loan guarantees and weapons systems? I think not. Israeli also plays victim.