Friday, May 13, 2011

The Incurious President (DavidG)

From DavidG:
The New York Times reports that Obama seeks reset in Arab world (h/t Tweeted by Tamar Abraham )

On page 2 of the story we learn:

At night in the family residence, an adviser said, Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional news sites to get a local flavor for events. He has sounded out prominent journalists like Fareed Zakaria of Time magazine and CNN and Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times, regarding their visits to the region. “He is searching for a way to pull back and weave a larger picture,” Mr. Zakaria said. 

The point of the story is to portray President Obama as sophisticated and intellectually curious, but this paragraph has just the opposite effect.

I wondered what Zakaria and Friedman have written about Barack Obama.

Zakaria wrote a column, How Obama sees the world, before the election in which he praised the candidate:

Obama rarely speaks in the moralistic tones of the current Bush administration. He doesn’t divide the world into good and evil even when speaking about terrorism. He sees countries and even extremist groups as complex, motivated by power, greed and fear as much as by pure ideology. His interest in diplomacy seems motivated by the sense that one can probe, learn and possibly divide and influence countries and movements precisely because they are not monoliths. When speaking to me about Islamic extremism, for example, he repeatedly emphasized the diversity within the Islamic world, speaking of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Southeast Asians, Shiites and Sunnis, all of whom have their own interests and agendas.

Before the President’s Cairo speech two years ago, Friedman wrote Obama on Obama in which he observed:

It was clear from the 20-minute conversation that the president has no illusions that one speech will make lambs lie down with lions. Rather, he sees it as part of his broader diplomatic approach that says: If you go right into peoples’ living rooms, don’t be afraid to hold up a mirror to everything they are doing, but also engage them in a way that says ‘I know and respect who you are.’ You end up — if nothing else — creating a little more space for U.S. diplomacy. And you never know when that can help.

Friedman’s conclusion came across as eerily prescient:

I think that’s right. An Egyptian friend remarked to me: Do not underestimate what seeds can get planted when American leaders don’t just propagate their values, but visibly live them. Mr. Obama will be speaking at Cairo University. When young Arabs and Muslims see anAmerican president who looks like them, has a name like theirs, has Muslims in his family and comes into their world and speaks the truth, it will be empowering and disturbing at the same time. People will be asking: “Why is this guy who looks like everyone on the street here the head of the free world and we can’t even touch freedom?” You never know where that goes. 

Neither pundit is one who challenges the President’s assumptions. It’s not like he reads Charles KrauthammerBarry Rubin or Jackson Diehl, to challenge his assumptions. Rather he seems to seek out those who confirm his own premises. The media sophisticates loved to dismiss President George W. Bush as being “incurious,” but what’s being reported here shows that that epithet applies to the current President. The man who’s been praised for his “supple” intelligence and “nuanced” view of the world can’t be bothered with contrary opinions.

Even the claim that he searches for blogs for information betrays a certain unseriousness on the part of the President. Sure he’s doing the “cool” thing, but was he paying attention when Mohammed el-Baradei tweeted when he was attacked by Islamists? Or that the face of the revolution, Wael Ghonim was kept off the stage when Sheikh Qaradawi spoke? If he were following “Edward Dark,” I believe that the United States would be taking a stronger stand against Assad. Whatever information the President gets from blogs isn’t clear. What is clear, is that he would rather be reassured than challenged.