American Elephants


Saving the World With Platitudes, One At a Time. by The Elephant's Child

On August 8, Friday, The New York Times published an interview with the president by Thomas Friedman, titled a bit grandiosely “Obama on the World.” Mr. Friedman is a long-time admirer of Mr. Obama, so it is a gentle interview that allows the president to fully express his successes (many) and failures (very few). It’s hard to know just what to make of it.

Obama made clear that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished.

At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America — the only force that can really weaken us — is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country — from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy — but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.

America, he believes, is dysfunctional, and societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. Oh please. Just explain yourself in straightforward prose — all of Obama’s problems derive from the nasty Republicans who won’t do what he says. Can he possibly believe that a clever new phrase will allay centuries-old enmity that has had Muslim tribes killing each other ever since the sixth century?

Scott Johnson, over at Powerline, apparently had the same misgivings. He said: “I asked the person who is perhaps the most worldly-wise man I know if he could comment on Obama’s interview with Obama apostle Tom Friedman as related …in the Times article “Obama on the World.” His acquaintance responded that he had wondered about this viewpoint.

He said both James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. separately and in other contexts said something about “ignorance allied with power” being the worst imaginable combination. I  just read a piece by Angelo Codevilla, which began with a similar quotation: “Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.

Scott Johnson’s unidentified worldly-wise man continued:

I think with Obama it starts with ignorance which in his formative years became a required doctrine of the intelligentsia when it came to understanding the way the world works in matters of international security; to be considered politically correct you had to spurn and despise such painfully developed concepts and practices as the balance of power, the necessity of using strength and diplomacy in tandem, etc.

This was allied with a personal drive for High Moralism, the felt need to build a castle around yourself behind a moat of 12-foot thick walls from behind which you could shoot moral arrows at everyone else to demonstrate your superiority and quickly destroy any emerging criticism of yourself. So from this position of invincible ignorance allied with moral perfection and then allied with power, you could become able to cross a line in history to reach a new world shaped by your conviction of your perfected sensibility.

This would mean, 1.) taking the US out of its despicable role of world leadership, which has been immoral and has caused almost all the world’s problems over at least the past century, and 2.) “Transforming” America into a country moral enough to be worthy of you, a kind of big Belgium. As the wicked of the world have refused to fall into line behind this vision, it has made the president increasingly sour and feeling put upon.

At this point he has been forced to do something like take a presidential decision of the kind that all previous presidents have known they would have to take– the “hard decisions” recognized by the president’s hero Reinhold Niebuhr but never recognized by the president. So he has been forced by events to do it. But he didn’t want to do it. And he keeps making it clear that he is determined not to do it in an effective way, to assure our enemies of the many things he will never do, and to sulk about it for the foreseeable future as he relates his unappreciated fate to those who share his feelings, like Tom Friedman.

This makes sense to me. We on the right side of the political spectrum spend way too much time trying to understand the left — how they think, what they understand and what they don’t understand — because they just don’t seem to make sense. That is correct. They do not make sense. The philosophizing and moralizing that are such an animating factor and seem so formidable in the hot house of the faculty lounge — don’t work well out in the real world.

They are not operating in the real world. They don’t do their homework. “High moralism” just doesn’t cut it. It’s all very nice to come up with a new phrase — “no victor, no vanquished”— or you just have to compromise, and if  you don’t, we’ll wash our hands of you. This is not exactly a viable foreign policy.

Obama told Mr. Friedman that the “extremist ideology” that’s taken over the GOP, the “balkanization of the media has blocked my agenda.” What agenda is that? Can’t everybody just get along — is not an agenda. It’s not even an idea, but simply a platitude.

Tom Friedman apparently spent the weekend mulling things over. This morning he said we are absolutely clueless in the Middle East. That’s about right.




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