Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 1, 2009

Rigid Ideologies and Old Formulas

In a must-read critique of the Obama approach to Israel, Elliott Abrams attempts to piece together how we got from the warmest relationship with Israel in recent memory to the most hostile. Yes, part of it is the perceived desire by Obama to affect regime change in Israel. But it’s worse than that:

The deeper problem — and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions — is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

While Israel faces an existential threat, Obama wants to engage a regime that shows no sign of willingness to engage with us. Stall maybe; engage no. Obama obsesses over the settlements but ignores the very real progress made economically on the West Bank. (Ironically, this was the very sort of progress Dennis Ross, after absorbing the lessons of Camp David’s failures, declared was the only reasonable road forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) Abrams writes:

It is, once again, about the subordination of reality to pre-existing theories. In this case, the theory is that every problem in the Middle East is related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The administration takes the view that “merely” improving life for Palestinians and doing the hard work needed to prepare them for eventual independence isn’t enough. Nor is it daunted by the minor detail that half of the eventual Palestine is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

The takeaway here is deeply sobering. Ideologues don’t accept new evidence or recognize that their theories aren’t bearing fruit. Failures are always attributed to a lack of time or effort. We simply have to keep at it, we will be told. That does not bode well for a course correction. They have their worldview, and they are sticking with it.

So don’t expect much to change so long as the Obama team “attributes every problem in the region to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while all who live there can see that developments in Iran are in fact the linchpin of the region’s future.” And don’t expect the Obama team to admit error or reverse course. For people who have decried, as Hillary Clinton put it, “rigid ideologies and old formulas,” they are, for the foreseeable future, sticking with theirs.

In a must-read critique of the Obama approach to Israel, Elliott Abrams attempts to piece together how we got from the warmest relationship with Israel in recent memory to the most hostile. Yes, part of it is the perceived desire by Obama to affect regime change in Israel. But it’s worse than that:

The deeper problem — and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions — is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

While Israel faces an existential threat, Obama wants to engage a regime that shows no sign of willingness to engage with us. Stall maybe; engage no. Obama obsesses over the settlements but ignores the very real progress made economically on the West Bank. (Ironically, this was the very sort of progress Dennis Ross, after absorbing the lessons of Camp David’s failures, declared was the only reasonable road forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) Abrams writes:

It is, once again, about the subordination of reality to pre-existing theories. In this case, the theory is that every problem in the Middle East is related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The administration takes the view that “merely” improving life for Palestinians and doing the hard work needed to prepare them for eventual independence isn’t enough. Nor is it daunted by the minor detail that half of the eventual Palestine is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

The takeaway here is deeply sobering. Ideologues don’t accept new evidence or recognize that their theories aren’t bearing fruit. Failures are always attributed to a lack of time or effort. We simply have to keep at it, we will be told. That does not bode well for a course correction. They have their worldview, and they are sticking with it.

So don’t expect much to change so long as the Obama team “attributes every problem in the region to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while all who live there can see that developments in Iran are in fact the linchpin of the region’s future.” And don’t expect the Obama team to admit error or reverse course. For people who have decried, as Hillary Clinton put it, “rigid ideologies and old formulas,” they are, for the foreseeable future, sticking with theirs.

Read Less

What Is “Better”?

On the second-quarter GDP figures, Megan McArdle writes:

Woo-hoo! GDP only fell at an annualized pace of 1% in the second quarter! Pop the champagne!

Thoughts:

  • Happiness is relative
  • This number will be revised, probably downward
  • Consumer saving continues to rise, and probably will for a while
  • Employment isn’t going to recover for quite some time

As unemployment continues to tick up and the deficit gets revised (with health care stalled, the Obama team will release the midyear figures), it will be hard to convince voters that things are “better” or that much of anything the administration has done is “working.” It simply isn’t possible to convince voters that they should be happy because there are fewer people still losing jobs than in previous months. And while it is true that the banking crisis has stabilized, to the average voter this is amorphous and, especially if s/he still can’t get a loan, irrelevant.

The danger for the Obama administration, which we have already seen play out in the debate over the stimulus plan, is that it will sound out of touch and unsympathetic by insisting things are so much better than they were. For a group that already sounds quite eggheadish and removed from the concerns of ordinary people, that’s a bit of a problem. In fact, Obama’s media spinners are already worried about his elite image in the midst of a recession. Matthew Cooper frets:

The Obamas have had plenty of meetings with those who are down on their luck. But the overall impression that Americans may be getting of the Obamas is of people out of touch with the plight of Americans. This is probably owing more to the celebrity media culture than anything the Obamas have done. But in a neo Depression, is all the coverage of Michelle’s hair, the kids at Sidwell, the upcoming Martha’s Vineyard vacation really helping the president.

Democrats risk forfeiting their claim of representing the “little guy” to the Republicans, who haven’t sounded so concerned about jobs and small business in a generation. Rahm Emanuel might have been right — the recession could be a politically transformative event. Just not in the way he and Obama had hoped.

On the second-quarter GDP figures, Megan McArdle writes:

Woo-hoo! GDP only fell at an annualized pace of 1% in the second quarter! Pop the champagne!

Thoughts:

  • Happiness is relative
  • This number will be revised, probably downward
  • Consumer saving continues to rise, and probably will for a while
  • Employment isn’t going to recover for quite some time

As unemployment continues to tick up and the deficit gets revised (with health care stalled, the Obama team will release the midyear figures), it will be hard to convince voters that things are “better” or that much of anything the administration has done is “working.” It simply isn’t possible to convince voters that they should be happy because there are fewer people still losing jobs than in previous months. And while it is true that the banking crisis has stabilized, to the average voter this is amorphous and, especially if s/he still can’t get a loan, irrelevant.

The danger for the Obama administration, which we have already seen play out in the debate over the stimulus plan, is that it will sound out of touch and unsympathetic by insisting things are so much better than they were. For a group that already sounds quite eggheadish and removed from the concerns of ordinary people, that’s a bit of a problem. In fact, Obama’s media spinners are already worried about his elite image in the midst of a recession. Matthew Cooper frets:

The Obamas have had plenty of meetings with those who are down on their luck. But the overall impression that Americans may be getting of the Obamas is of people out of touch with the plight of Americans. This is probably owing more to the celebrity media culture than anything the Obamas have done. But in a neo Depression, is all the coverage of Michelle’s hair, the kids at Sidwell, the upcoming Martha’s Vineyard vacation really helping the president.

Democrats risk forfeiting their claim of representing the “little guy” to the Republicans, who haven’t sounded so concerned about jobs and small business in a generation. Rahm Emanuel might have been right — the recession could be a politically transformative event. Just not in the way he and Obama had hoped.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Stuart Rothenberg thinks it is all but over in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. And so do a lot of Democrats he’s talked to.

The best headline of the week: “Deadlines, Schmeadlines — No Breakthroughs, No Deals, No Health Care Bill.”

Obama’s ongoing poll travails: “Seniors are the least likely of all age groups in the U.S. to say that healthcare reform will benefit their personal healthcare situation. By a margin of three to one, 36% to 12%, adults 65 and older are more likely to believe healthcare reform will reduce rather than expand their access to healthcare. And by 39% to 20%, they are more likely to say their own medical care will worsen rather than improve.” Whoops. In the 2010 elections, with no “hope and change” on the ballot, we can expect that older voters will make up an even greater portion of the electorate.

Seth Leibsohn picks over the Pew survey showing that Israelis now view America less favorably. He also finds: “There is little evidence that support for suicide bombing in the Muslim world has decreased. In the Palestinian territories — you know, where we are appeasing — support for suicide bombings is at 68%, and this year such support has actually increased in places like Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Turkey. Finally: Osama bin Laden is more popular in the Palestinian territories than Barack Obama. Aren’t you glad we’re pressuring Israel?”

Saudi Arabia tells Hillary Clinton they aren’t doing anything to improve relations with Israel. All that bowing for nothing.

Sen. Byron Dorgan could be in trouble if incumbent Governor John Hoeven runs against him. In one poll, he trails by an astounding 36-53 percent.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds operated on a pig. No way to compete with that one.

John McCain at his best: “‘Never. Never have I seen such a transfer from the private enterprise system to the government of such massive scale,’ he says. He goes through the list: car companies, banks, insurance firms owned by government, and he especially grimaces when he mentions the $787 billion stimulus package. . . . ‘And now, the answer is, according to the Obama economists, we didn’t spend enough.’”

As only Rudy Giuliani can put it (on Gates-gate): “He’s actually right. It is teachable. Here’s the lesson: Shut up.”

Four Blue Dogs refuse to roll over.

Ben Smith focuses on a Blue Dog in a Red State: “Rep. Artur Davis — citing cost and the burden on small business — says he’ll vote against the House health care bill. He’s running for governor of very conservative Alabama, so this is very much the calculation of a Red State Democrat, but also a sign of just how hard these politics are.”

Stuart Rothenberg thinks it is all but over in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. And so do a lot of Democrats he’s talked to.

The best headline of the week: “Deadlines, Schmeadlines — No Breakthroughs, No Deals, No Health Care Bill.”

Obama’s ongoing poll travails: “Seniors are the least likely of all age groups in the U.S. to say that healthcare reform will benefit their personal healthcare situation. By a margin of three to one, 36% to 12%, adults 65 and older are more likely to believe healthcare reform will reduce rather than expand their access to healthcare. And by 39% to 20%, they are more likely to say their own medical care will worsen rather than improve.” Whoops. In the 2010 elections, with no “hope and change” on the ballot, we can expect that older voters will make up an even greater portion of the electorate.

Seth Leibsohn picks over the Pew survey showing that Israelis now view America less favorably. He also finds: “There is little evidence that support for suicide bombing in the Muslim world has decreased. In the Palestinian territories — you know, where we are appeasing — support for suicide bombings is at 68%, and this year such support has actually increased in places like Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Turkey. Finally: Osama bin Laden is more popular in the Palestinian territories than Barack Obama. Aren’t you glad we’re pressuring Israel?”

Saudi Arabia tells Hillary Clinton they aren’t doing anything to improve relations with Israel. All that bowing for nothing.

Sen. Byron Dorgan could be in trouble if incumbent Governor John Hoeven runs against him. In one poll, he trails by an astounding 36-53 percent.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds operated on a pig. No way to compete with that one.

John McCain at his best: “‘Never. Never have I seen such a transfer from the private enterprise system to the government of such massive scale,’ he says. He goes through the list: car companies, banks, insurance firms owned by government, and he especially grimaces when he mentions the $787 billion stimulus package. . . . ‘And now, the answer is, according to the Obama economists, we didn’t spend enough.’”

As only Rudy Giuliani can put it (on Gates-gate): “He’s actually right. It is teachable. Here’s the lesson: Shut up.”

Four Blue Dogs refuse to roll over.

Ben Smith focuses on a Blue Dog in a Red State: “Rep. Artur Davis — citing cost and the burden on small business — says he’ll vote against the House health care bill. He’s running for governor of very conservative Alabama, so this is very much the calculation of a Red State Democrat, but also a sign of just how hard these politics are.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.