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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama the actor

When a mid-level government official in Israel insults the White House without the knowledge of the Israeli prime minister, it is a major international incident that is escalated by the administration even after a series of apologies.

When the Palestinian Authority insults the US Vice President directly, it gets papered over.

From David Bedein at The Bulletin:
The Bulletin has learned that Vice President Biden, now on an official visit to the Middle East, made a direct request that the P.A. cancel the ceremony that honors a terrorist.
And as soon as Biden was back on the plane, the ceremony was held anyway, with officials from the ruling Fatah party in attendance. (To distinguish between the PA and Fatah is an exercise in splitting hairs. Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of Fatah as well as the PA.)

People are wondering why Israel and other US allies are being publicly treated worse than Iran, Russia and Arab thugocracies by the Obama administration.

It is not because the US is aligned more with Arab interests, although the president is making worrying moves in that direction.

The reason is simply because President Obama fears confrontation with those whom he does not understand.

He (thinks he) knows that Great Britain and Israel are not going to make a stink, because they value their relationship with the US. Above all, he knows that they are not going to do anything rash.

But to Obama, the Second and Third Worlds are still a mystery. It is filled with scary characters who are not guaranteed to behave rationally. Deep down he knows that they don't think nor act like us. Yet to admit that fact aloud sounds too close to bigotry in a mindset where everyone must be fundamentally the same. It is a taboo subject.

I once described this dichotomy as "Your Crazy Uncle Ned:" Geopolitics is partially based on the idea that Arabs and Muslims are completely irrational. Instead of treating them like normal adults who need to take responsibility for their actions, we treat them like your crazy Uncle Ned who makes a scene every Thanksgiving. We smile nervously, say whatever we need to say to calm him down for now, lock up the liquor cabinet and hope he doesn't drive into a crowd. And when he acts sort-of rationally, we fall all over ourselves complimenting him on not setting the table on fire.

This is Obama's thought process towards Arabs and Muslims in a nutshell - but it is only half the story in understanding Obama.

When Obama was running for president, the impression he gave was that he was surprised as anyone that he became the frontrunner. I believe that he ran for office as a setup for a more serious 2012 run, or at best to be picked as a vice president by Hillary. He was, simply, not ready to lead. He had less experience in governing than practically all presidents in history. Even with all his rhetorical skills, it never felt like he was a man who wanted to dedicate his life to serving and leading his nation; it always seemed like someone who wanted to act like a leader rather than be a leader. He had some vague, New Age-y ideas of how the world could be a better place through mutual respect, and enough yes-men who could convince him that he was the man of the hour, but it never seemed like he truly believed it himself. He is, far more than any president in recent memory, an actor trying to learn a role.

Obama believes that a president, the leader of the free world, must act strong. But the problem is he cannot act that way when he cannot predict how the other parties will react to his show of strength. As in the movie Galaxy Quest, he may be acting but the other side is dead serious, and in such circumstances he is over his head. Upsetting a billion people or another nuclear power is something to be avoided at all costs.

So he acts like a parody of a strong leader - against his friends. He knows they won't start a war or a terror spree against American interests. He calculates that by acting tough with his friends, there is little downside while he builds up his street cred as a resolute but fair leader. He hopes that Iran and Syria (and Russia and China) will interpret his actions as a message for them, avoiding actually making decisions that could set a course from which the US cannot go back.

But what he cannot do is actually make any real foreign policy decisions. If he did, he would be burning a bridge and opening himself up to the chance that he is making a mistake. Worse yet, he would be revealing to the world that he doesn't have a clue.

For an actor playing the role of President, changing the status quo is scary. Taking a real stand is frightening. Instead,the emphasis is to make it through your term without blowing up the world. You buy time and hope and pray for the best. You rely on your advisors to guide you and you hope they are not acting the way you are.

And you continue to act how you think a President would act, hoping that your charade is not exposed.