Noah Pollak has an interesting piece on Barack Obama’s position on the Lebanese crisis. One could hardly imagine a better definition of liberal cognitive egocentrism: define the problem in terms for which we liberals have a solution. (Hat tip: oao)
Obama Stares Down Hezbollah
NOAH POLLAK – 05.11.2008 – 2:19 PM
Yesterday Barack Obama released a statement about the crisis in Lebanon that surely must be cause for celebration in Tehran, Damascus, and Bint Jbeil. First of all, there is the alternate-reality feel to it:
This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.
Does Obama understand that the people who “have influence with Hezbollah” happen to be the same people on whose behalf Hezbollah is rampaging through Lebanon?
Then there is the absurd prescription:
It’s time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment.
So that’s the problem in Lebanon? Economics and the electoral system? As Lee Smith points out in a scathing post,
Obama’s language is derived from those corners of the left that claim Hezbollah is only interested in winning the Shia a larger share of the political process. Never mind the guns, it’s essentially a social welfare movement, with schools and clinics! — and its own foreign policy, intelligence services and terror apparatus, used at the regional, international and now domestic level. But the solution, says Obama, channeling the man he fired for talking to Hamas, is diplomacy.
In the Lebanon crisis, Obama is rhetorically cornered. Since his only prescription for the Middle East is diplomatic engagement, every disease gets re-diagnosed as something curable through talking.
The full Obama statement is only slightly less absurd than Pollak’s cherry-picked quotes suggest. Actually it seems like he has a kind of PC playbook from which he can select three problems from column A and three moves towards a solution from problem B, and when you’ve reached the end of the laundry lists, he’s covered most everything. Lee Smith quotes another trenchant comment from Abu Kais over at From Beirut to the Beltway:
Oh the time we wasted by fighting Hizbullah all those years with rockets, invasions of their homes and shutting down their media outlets. If only we had engaged them and their masters in diplomacy, instead of just sitting with them around discussion tables, welcoming them into our parliament, and letting them veto cabinet decisions. If only Obama had shared his wisdom with us before, back when he was rallying with some of our former friends at pro-Palestinian rallies in Chicago.
“As Tony Badran wrote me [Lee Smith] this morning: ‘I think Obama’s statement is counterproductive in that it will be read by Syria as confirming their hope that there might be a chance with an Obama presidency to get back Lebanon.'”
No wonder so many fine folk in the Middle East are rooting for Obama. (Apparently the electricity problems have not interfered with the internet campaign for Obama in Gaza.)
Update: More excellent analysis from Barry Rubin on Lebanon and the folly of Obama’s “negotiated” strategy. Rubin argues that Lebanon is the Spain of 1936 (implication, Israel is the Czechoslovakia of 1938):
What Spain was in 1936; Lebanon is today.
Does anyone remember the Spanish Civil War? Briefly, a fascist revolt took place against the democratic government. The rebels were motivated by several factors, including anger that their religion had not been given enough respect and regional grievances, but essentially they sought to put their ideology and themselves into power. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy backed the rebels with money and guns. The Western democracies stood by and did nothing.
Guess who won? And guess whether that outcome led to peace or world war.
(Bold in original.) From there he dissects Obama’s folly and concludes.
Obama is endorsing the Hizballah program. It wants a new Lebanese consensus based on it having, along with its pro-Syrian allies, 51 percent of the power. What’s needed is not consensus (the equivalent being getting Fatah and Hamas to bury their differences, or bringing in Iran and Syria to determine Iraq’s future) but the willingness to fight a battle. In effect, Obama without realizing it, is arguing for a Syrian-, Iranian-, and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon. Such talk makes moderate Arabs despair.
Oh the travails of the Western liberal who wants to believe that “War is not the answer precisely at the moment where it is the answer. People who do believe that war is the answer (despite how badly the odds don’t favor them — e.g., Germany against the world, Islam against the West, Japan against the Pacific world), can “level the odds” by pushing aggressively precisely where and when those who don’t like war will back down.
The point is not to get easily provoked, but to respond decisively when the time comes. Of course, to adopt such a policy would mean keeping one’s eye on the ball. I don’t get the sense that Obama even knows what the game us, much less what kinds of balls are in play. Malley’s facile solutions to the Middle East conflict — get Israel to stop humiliatiing the Palestinians — are recipes for disaster precisely because the encourage the belligerents.
Thus, as Rubin points out, Obama has a specific appeal in the Middle East:
Note that this does not make Obama the candidate favored by Arabs in general but only by the radicals. Egyptians, Jordanians, Gulf Arabs, and the majorities in Lebanon and Iraq are very worried. This is not just an Israel problem; it is one for all non-extremists in the region.
If the dictators and terrorists are smiling, it means everyone else is crying.
These war mongers see a natural ally in Obama’s progressive, kind politics, in his willingness to engage anyone and listen to their grievances. In the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism, they can pursue their plans for world domination while Obama and his advisors insist that no one would be that base and inhuman (except, maybe, the Zionists), and that if these folks are violent, it’s probably because they’re less fortunate than we are, and have legitimate grievances. What more could a demopath ask for as president of the United States?