Is the real world ready for Obama's unreal world view?
by Sol Sanders
Only the historians decades hence, if then, will know what measure of President Barack Hussein Obama's worldview was conditioned by the small band of 60s Stalinists and fellow-travelers his mother and he moved in as a child and as a young man and what part was formed of an innate cunning that produced a more pragmatic — if often uninformed — view as he entered the real world.
One aspect is already clear, however: the terrible choices that are presented all of us in life, but particularly the ones for the world's most powerful figure as president of the United States, have come down on him hard.
He admits as much in his casual statements about how surprised he is that all problems come to the presidency [the phenomenon Harry Truman described as "the buck stops here"], or his finding that there were so many important issues at a given moment. That much comes through despite all the teleprompterspeak he so skillfully employs in what now seems an unending appeal for public support in his continued drift as a campaigner.
Leaving aside the turbulent domestic scene and its problems — not a small aside since they must in the nature of things demand his first priority — it is perhaps in foreign policy where the nature of reality throws more cold water at his [mostly] sunny rhetoric.
And while Europe seemingly retreats into self delusion, self indulgence and impotency, after almost 500 years of dominating world events, Obama is drawn to the problems of Asia as those needing attention as immediately threatening world peace and stability.
He seems loathe to try to strip out in an analytical way the inevitable debris left over not only from the Bush Administration but decades of U.S. policy before him. Amid the machinations of a wide gaggle of discordant advisers, many of what he purports to be new initiatives are not new or if new, have already met stalemate.
That is despite his steadfast determination to ignore the reality with his endless rhetoric.
Nowhere is the hollow call of the Obama trumpet so off key as in the Mideast.
Obama's highly publicized one-year schedule for achieving a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine affair is a non sequitur. "The Palestine Project", now the rallying cry for the European left from the entertainment world glitterati to reawakening virulent anti-semites, is at its lowest ebb for decades.
There is no negotiating partner for the Israelis — not only one that would make a Sadat-like statement accepting the Jewish state's right to exist but a deepening division between a once dominant secular Jerusalem Arab elite and the Hamas Muslim fanatics throws up. There is no unified Palstinian representation.
Israeli opinion has moved right, in obvious reaction to the facts on the ground, that is, the chaos in "Palestine" and the almost daily repeated threat from Teheran. And, ironically, a tacit alliance is developing between Cairo and Jerusalem against the suspected weakness of Obama vis-à-vis the growing threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
It has never been true that Israel-Arab was the beginning and the end-all of problems in the umma, the Muslim world. But it is now dramatically clearer although not recognized in Washington.
From Morocco to Tokyo, among the Afro-Asian leadership — however much his popularity with the street as the first African-American president enthralls — dismay on the part of traditional friends and allies is apparent. Old enemies seem caught in equal parts bafflement and encouraged by his naïveté.
This is leading to important if little remarked occurrences everywhere which are inferentially related to his public statements. Thus Rabat broke diplomatic relations with the mullahs in Teheran, exhibiting the fear throughout the Sunni Arab Establishment that Obama's perceived Iran strategy is dangerously imperiling them..
The Moroccans were explicit about the threat when they came to the support of the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, against outright territorial claims by Iranian officials to that little oil kingdom. The Gulf has seen nothing like it since Iraqi Saddam's claims on Kuwait which led to two wars.
The Tehran challenge becomes acute, based on longstanding agitation among Bahrain's dissatisfied Shia majority. Critical is that the Morrocan monarch Mohammed unlike other Arab leaders claims descent from the Prophet and therefore to Sunni religious as well civil and national leadership. But for Obama and the U.S. directly Tehran's claims make another point: the little Persian Gulf sheikhdom is the site of the American Fifth Fleet headquarters, the main stabilizing force in the area.
Were that not enough, Hizbullah — the terrorist organization that Washington in its absent mindedness forgets has taken more lives than any other radical Muslim grouping — is about to cap its growing control of the Lebanese army with an election victory.
That would end the always precarious sectarian balancing act that has characterized the state since the French set it up in the post-World War II era as a Middle East sanctuary for Christians.
The control of Syria over Lebanon which Sec. of State Clinton challenged with nothing more than mantras when she dropped in on Beirut in her first trip to the area is increasing by the day.
Meanwhile, Obama's first above-board initiative in the area, sending State Dept. delegates to Damascus, has not moved Basher al-Hafaz' dicatorship one inch from its alliance with Teheran [and through Teheran with North Korea] as he continues to facilitate weapons flowing to Hizbullah.
Obama's elaborate state visit to Turkey under the benighted assumption that Turkey's old role as the quintessential modernizing state of the Third World — a cliché which no one has believed since World War II — has resulted in no settlement with Ankara.
In fact, the Turkish "moderate" Muslim administration in a drunken sailor "multidirectional" foreign policy is jeopardizing the Bush Administration's partially successful effort to make it the hub for an effort to limit Europe's dependence on Russian fossil fuels from new sources in Central Asia.
Turkey has mocked its alliance with Israel [and NATO] with overtures to Hizbullah and negotiations to increase its own dependence on Russian gas, its "neutral" stance in last summer's Moscow attack on its neighbor Georgia.
It refuses to join American and NATO efforts to use sanctions to curb Iran before it reaches weapons of mass destruction. So much for the much heralded seminal speech to the Muslim world with which Obama was to turn everything around which, luckily, Obama decided not to give in Turkey.
In Afghanistan-Pakistan, the Obama has thrown initiative after initiative at the crumbling ceiling hoping something would stick, and accompanied it with ceaseless — often ill conceived — public announcements. [One of Obama's campaign tidbits was a threat to intervene directly with U.S. forces in Pakistan.]
The Aministration daily contradicts itself on the depth of the crisis. [Gauletier and notorious bull-in-china Richard H.A. Holbrooke contradicted the President within a 24-hour span on the depth of the crisis.] Reversing the Bush assistance in toppling the quasi-military regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Obama Administration is moving to closer and closer relations with the military, the only substantial national force in the country.
Admitting the fecklessness of President Asif Ali Zardari, the new massive aid [$400 million in the next year] aid will detour around the State Dept. and the Islamabad civilian leadership for a direct military-to-military effort. But it will have to be a subtle strategy which nothing so far from this Administration suggests.
Paralyzed by the month-long unpredictable Indian elections, Washington has made no progress in that long, long trek of trying to patch up India-Pakistan relations.
New Delhi refuses to even have a backroom discussion of Kashmir — the issue between India and Islamabad that must be defused if Pakistani generals are to turn their full attention to the sanctuaries along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and their own growing internal terrorism. The Obama Administration's pre-inaugural suggestion of sending former President Bill Clinton as mediator only aggravated the wound.
Meanwhile, 750,000 Indian security forces maintain a precarious peace in Kashmir itself with a growing majority probably in favor independence of both neighbors, another ministate which would be a troublemaking defenseless entity.
In East Asia, the Obama Administration — stuck with the failed Bush policy of trying to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear arming and proliferation of weapons through a Six Nation multilateral talkfest dependent on Beijing — adds to the confusion.
Clinton told a Congressional panel the Administration wants to continue food aid to Pyongyang [to avert famine] and get an extension of the president's authority to waive sanctions against a terrorist state. But not only does North Korea refuse to return to the negotiating table, but indirectly seemingly confirms the suspicion that it is working on a second uranium track to make bombs.
The beleagured regime — King Jong Il is probably terminally ill and has made a drastic lunge toward giving more control to the military in an effort to assure one of his delinquent sons may inherit the dynasty — is harder to read than ever. But there seems no inclination in Beijing, fearing something worse [for them, including an implosion which would bring about Korean reunification] might occur, is hardly a reliable partner.
Administration spokesmen, are prepared to buy into China's game of chicken — pitting its hoard of American debt against any Washington pressure to open its markets or play a role in international problem solving. S
ec. of Treasury Timothy Geithner shocked the professional financial world with comments entertaining a Chinese suggestion of an alternative to the dollar as a world reserve currency; something he almost immediately backed away from, a suggestion which on its face was impractical and inimitable to Beijing's own interests.
One has to brace for a promised Obama Administration review of Taiwan policy, now further complicated by a very successful wooing of the KMT government by the Mainland. Both South Korea, with a new and determined conservative government, and Tokyo find themselves often out on a limb with sudden changes in U.S. policy, particularly toward North Korea — granted something inherited again from the dying years of the Bush presidency.
To be sure, many if not most of these problems are the accretion of pre-Obama problems and an inheritance no one should have wished on any presidency.
But precisely because the Obama presidency spends so much of its time trying to escape the past, apologizing, ignoring continuations, adopting contrary tactics simply out of an effort to be different, endless rhetoric where often silence might be helpful, it is creating new and difficult atmospheric conditions if not altering the fundamentals themselves.
One of the many problems — as well as the blessings — which the digital revolution has brought with it is adding to the fundamental life problem of distinguishing perception from reality. In another context, Richard P Feynman, 1965 Nobel laureate in physics, put it well:
"Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
In a politician as skillful as Obama, it is often not possible to distinguish how much his understanding of reality differs from that perception of a lack of realism he presents through his greatest weapon, his oratory.
But there has to be a growing suspicion that the wedge is widening, that he is still a long way from accepting and working with what is in fact the hard facts of international political life.
It augurs badly for the Republic.