Commentary Magazine


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Self-Infatuation Thy Name is Obama … and Friedman

Tom Friedman’s fawning interview with President Obama in today’s New York Times provided both of the participants with an opportunity to illustrate how highly they think of themselves.

Friedman has always fancied himself as an important part of the stories he covers, and has a long and not very honorable history as a chronicler of Israeli-Arab diplomacy. He is, after all, the one who helped inspire a particularly nasty bit of Israel-bashing by his buddy former Secretary of State James “F___ the Jews” Baker (he advised Baker to tell Congress that he was leaving the Israelis his phone number and that they could call him if they really wanted peace). He was also the promoter of the so-called Saudi peace plan that is still being put about as if it had anything to do with peace rather than just being a joint PR stunt by the Saudi royal family and the publicity-hungry Friedman.

Friedman was able to get Obama to stop talking about himself long enough to tell him an old joke about a guy who prays to win the lottery but never buys a ticket. The point of this knee-slapper is that nobody in the Middle East has given peace a chance. It made the president laugh and gave the columnist the opportunity once again to pose as an adviser (rather than a mere Boswell) to the powerful.

Obama, as Max pointed out, then said:

We have a joke around the White House. We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.

Oh, the perils of honesty! That’s the word Obama used earlier this week in another pre-Cairo interview with NPR to describe his hostile attitude toward Israel. If this was a contest to see which of the two was the most self-infatuated, I guess you’ve got to give the decision to Obama.

But the point here is that the big fibbers are Friedman and Obama, not the Israelis who, they imply, have never lifted a finger for peace and have no interest in hearing the truth.

The fact is Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1993,  when it signed the Oslo Accords, brought the PLO and its terrorist leader Yasser Arafat back to the country, and handed most of the West Bank and Gaza over to him. The result was the creation of a Palestinian klepto-state that fomented hatred and financed terrorism.

A key part of [Obama’s] message, he said, will be: “Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly.” He then explained: “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.” There are a lot of Israelis, “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”

Not many willing to say it publicly? How about every Israeli government since 1993? Both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon gave them a judenrein Gaza. Even Benjamin Netanyahu has offered negotiations without preconditions and said he doesn’t want to govern them. The answer from the Palestinians has always been the same: no deal. And, as P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post last week, that position is not going to change.

Friedman concludes his paean to Obama by talking about how inspiring the president’s presence will be to young Arabs who want freedom, even though this is the man who has junked the freedom agenda of his predecessor and replaced it with Bakerite “realism,” which offers them no hope at all. But to point out the obvious contradictions here is almost beside the point. This trip, this president, and this columnist are all about image and self-promotion. Real honesty is the last thing either Obama or Friedman are interested in.