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Obama, Israel, and the Politics of Narcissism

I can think of no other reason than narcissism for Obama’s clumsy attempts to bring about a Palestinian state by publicly getting out in front of the Palestinians on important issues that should be decided through negotiations.

by
Abraham H. Miller

Bio

May 25, 2011 - 12:00 am

President Obama’s much publicized speech (May 19, 2011) to the Arab world created a new dimension in presidential character — the passive narcissist.  Seldom, if ever, has any president been so infatuated with his own words at the expense of reality

With the American dollar on a downward spiral, the president now promises billions of dollars to the so called “Arab democracy movement.” Calling something a “democracy movement” doesn’t make it so. Straining the financial resources of the nation for the chimera of democracy does not enhance our national security.

In Libya, the democracy movement is run by Gitmo alumni tied to a region known for sending volunteers to fight American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Egypt, the democracy movement seems to be the spearhead for the ascending Muslim Brotherhood. “We are all Egyptians,” Nicholas Kristof tells us in the pages of the New York Times, foreshadowing the tone of Obama’s speech. But ask the Coptic Christians if the Salafi-led attacks on them make them feel like Egyptians.

In Bahrain and Yemen, the street protests are heavily infiltrated by Iranian interests in the furtherance of Iran’s hegemonic view of a Shi’ia crescent. If Iranian vassals come to power, it will not advance American interests in those countries. Bahrain under an Iranian-influenced government is not going to permit the headquartering of the Fifth Fleet, as does the current regime. Yemen will not be a refueling port for the American Navy.

The Democrats have posed the question: When have you ever seen the opposition party align itself with a foreign leader, Benjamin Netanhyau, against a sitting American president? The answer is, perhaps, founded in a corollary question. When have you ever seen the president of the United States run headlong to embrace a movement that is antithetical to our strategic interests and looks strikingly like a replay of Iranian fundamentalists running amuck in the streets of Tehran demonstrating against the shah?

The Arab Spring is a lie. It is a lie promulgated by a wishful media, a naive and puerile president, and a gaggle of academics incapable of thinking beyond two categories: dictators and democrats. But there is a third category that hangs over Obama’s characterization of events, which is conspicuous by its absence in his speech — the theocratic ascendance, the Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Shi’ia theocrats in the Persian Gulf.

Obama is our first Muslim president, in the same sense that Bill Clinton was our first black president. Obama needs to be out front in terms of what he naively sees as the Arab democratic revolution. He also wants to be the American president who created the Palestinian state. His narcissism drives his rhetoric. Obama wants to be the godfather of the Arab Spring and the midwife of the Palestinian birth.

I can think of no other reason than narcissism for Obama’s clumsy attempts to bring about a Palestinian state by publicly getting out in front of the Palestinians on important issues that should be decided through negotiations. Obama, not Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, made the construction freeze in Jerusalem a precondition for negotiations. Even Yasser Arafat negotiated while neighborhoods were constructed in Jerusalem, neighborhoods the Palestinians never thought of claiming until Obama paved the way. Similarly, rolling Israel back to the pre-1967 “borders,” which are, in fact, military armistice lines, would be difficult to reconstruct 63 years later and constrain the negotiations because Abbas cannot afford to be less demanding of the Israelis than is the American president.

Obama takes negotiations to the public stage, asking Israel to dig out the old military maps, withdraw to the Auschwitz armistice lines, and agree to yield land as a pre-condition for negotiations with a new Palestinian entity dominated by Hamas, which advocates Israel’s destruction and which publicly mourned the death of Osama bin Laden.

But throwing Israel under the bus soon proved a political liability. The next day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a joint press conference, was scolding Obama over taking a position that every other administration had seen as the conceivable end of negotiations between the parties, not a starting point sculpted in granite by the American president. Obama had embraced the Palestinian position without asking anything from them.

The president quickly realized he had blundered. Speaking two days later to the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the president tried to reaffirm his support of Israel and showed that his ability to zigzag was not reserved to the basketball court. No, he does not expect Israel to withdraw to the 67 “boundaries,” a statement that should have dismayed anyone who heard Thursday’s speech. And he did not expect Israel to negotiate with Hamas, a statement that should have raised eyebrows.

Absent from the president’s attempt to smooth things over with the Jewish community was the statement he had made at the 2008 AIPAC meeting about the indivisibility of Jerusalem. This prompted veteran foreign affairs expert Elliot Abrams to observe that the Obama State Department seemed not to know what country the Israeli Knesset or the Western Wall of the temple was in, since they refer to diplomatic visits to Israel and Jerusalem, as if Jerusalem were something else.

Commenting on Obama’s naiveté, Israeli MP Danny Danon noted, “Israel will not pay [Obama’s] private tuition as he tries to understand the essence of the conflict.”

Of course, the conflict between Arabs and Israelis is not about lines on a map and the status of Jerusalem. It is about the existence of a Jewish entity in the middle of land Muslims consider sacred. Arab violence in the form of pogroms, rape, arson, and murder existed long before the Jewish state, let alone the settlements. Israel left Gaza. It was a major test case of yielding land for peace that resulted in yielding land for death in the form of rockets, missiles, and mortars.

Obama took office and quickly betrayed the Czechoslovaks and the Poles. He is a man who feels guilty about the pursuit of American national interests, who acts as if the dismal state of the Arab and Islamic world is our fault and not theirs. He cannot tell friend from foe. His betrayal of Israel is first and foremost a betrayal of America, a refusal to adhere to  George W. Bush’s agreements on Jerusalem in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal. What confidence can nations have now in the continuity of American policy?

Our concern should not be for Israel but for ourselves. We have elected a narcissist, naive and incapable, mesmerized by his own words echoing from the teleprompter, who is squandering our strategic interests in the Middle East with the same abandon that he squandered our strategic interests in Eastern Europe.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a former head of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
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