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To Be Liked or to Be Feared: That Is the Question

Obama started out wanting to be liked and ended up not being taken seriously.

by
Michael Widlanski

Bio

August 8, 2014 - 12:10 am
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“If you want to understand the world,” my great professor of Arabic at Columbia told me, “you need only remember this:

  • “The British want to be respected;
  • The French want to be admired;
  • The Russians want to be feared;
  • And the Americans want to be liked.”

It was one of many things — Arab literature and Arabic composition and style (al-inshaa wa-al–usloob) — given me by Professor Pierre  Cachia, a wise and worldly man who tells jokes in English, French and Arabic, all perfectly grammatical.

If I told my professor’s joke to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, there is a chance he might smile or give me a quick and rueful “da, konyeshno” — “yes, of course.”

If I got to tell President Barack Obama my joke at a Democratic fundraiser or on the golf course, he might respond with a smidgen of recognition, because the joke nicely sums up Putin’s world view and Obama’s “flexible” approach to world affairs.

To be fair to Putin, Russia’s desire to be feared did not start with Putin, and it is not just a Russian desire. Other states like being feared, too, and America’s yen for affection did not commence with President Obama, though he embraces it more than any other American leader in history, especially when facing the Middle East.

Once in office, Obama rushed to greet the Islamic countries, reminding everyone he was Barack HUSSEIN Obama, the man whose middle name re-emerged after the election, the man who loved the sound of the Islamic call to prayer and who was proud to tell everyone that he was born to a Muslim father.

In a spate of trips, interviews and policy initiatives, Obama flirted with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, embraced Turkey’s Islamist autocrat, courted Syria’s dictator, and “engaged” Iran’s maniacal ayatollahs. But somehow, it did not work.

To be fair to Obama, his courtship of the Islamic community was more than just about wanting to be liked. It was about the vision of another Columbia professor who influenced Obama: Edward Said, the dapper dabbler in anti-colonialism who fancied himself (like Obama) more of an expert on the Arab East than he really was.

Obama, who transferred to Columbia a few years after I completed my degrees, never studied with my professor, Pierre Cachia, and he does not know Arabic or much Islamic history, but he became friendly with Professor Said, an English professor and literary critic who pretended to know Arabic and Arab history.

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Top Rated Comments   
"who yearned to be liked by acting dumb."

What if he is not acting?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
He wanted to be liked by the world. He wanted to be feared by conservatives. The best leaders -- Churchill, Reagan, Lincoln, Washington -- want to be neither liked or feared but to do what's right even if it hurts.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Respected or feared? Obama is neither.

Here is Putin sending the, " flexible one ", birthday greetings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4FkLCZsDak

Some might say that Putin is making a monkey out of Obama. In that I think the former KGB boss is a little late to the game.

Obama has been a global disaster ever since he got elected.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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You get better results if you are feared; you come in second best if you are only liked.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
He may have wanted to be liked but all he has accomplished is to be laughed at and ridiculed by world leaders. Mideast leaders don`t respect him and European leaders don`t trust him to back them up.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Russians read Machiavelli; Obama sings 'Kumbaya'. Machiavelli knew that fear was a more reliable emotion.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
In Norman Schwartzkopf's book "It Doesn't Take A Hero" he said (I'm paraphrasing) the Arab world only respects power. If you use it they respect you. If you have power but don't use it they don't respect you. They may not like how you use that power but they respect you when you do.

For passive aggressive Beta Male like the President it is difficult to exert power because you are used to groveling and doing things via endless talking or going behind your foes backs. Direct force is alien to him. Neville Chamberlain would be very proud of the President's efforts in the world.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Outstanding column and analysis - I can see I need your book!
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
"who yearned to be liked by acting dumb."

What if he is not acting?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama's obliviousness that America must be RESPECTED is the mark of somebody who never grew up in the culture Clarence Thomas. Who was never marinated in the 'hood.

Instead, as I overheard my wife(!!!) mutter to herself, "He's a P*ssy".

This won't end well.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
He wanted to be liked by the world. He wanted to be feared by conservatives. The best leaders -- Churchill, Reagan, Lincoln, Washington -- want to be neither liked or feared but to do what's right even if it hurts.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
How about dumb ? Obama has assumed the role of Chauncey Gardener.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Respected or feared? Obama is neither.

Here is Putin sending the, " flexible one ", birthday greetings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4FkLCZsDak

Some might say that Putin is making a monkey out of Obama. In that I think the former KGB boss is a little late to the game.

Obama has been a global disaster ever since he got elected.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
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