Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama in Egypt

Surely, President Obama delivered a very good speech in Cairo this morning. We can only hope that it yields benefits, not in making America more liked in the region-- a fool's errand if ever there was one-- but in gaining it more respect.

Foreign policy should not be conducted in terms of who likes whom, but in terms of who respects whom, and how much. The same is true of most human relationships.

But this is not a foreign policy blog, so I will highlight only one passage from the speech, the one that shows how the therapy culture has infected even foreign policy.

In this passage Obama seems to be saying that the most intractable conflicts in the world can be resolved by couples counseling. In his words: "But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect each other; and to seek common ground."

Here I am tempted to say: don't try this at home. The goal of reaching common ground is worthy, but the method here is madness.

You cannot negotiate if you start out by putting all your cards on the table. Opening your private thoughts to public scrutiny is a formula for creating dramatic conflict.

And what if the Arab world has only one thing in its heart: namely to rid the region of every last Jew.

Many in the Arab world consider the Jewish state to be a stigma, a sign that their culture is second rate.

Now, if an Arab leader declares in public that the existence of the state of Israel is too much of a humiliation to bear, how can he enter a negotiation that might give him anything less?

After all, in a negotiation each party must necessarily get less than his heart's desire.

A leader who is wearing his heart on his sleeve will not be able to back down without losing face. His candor will make conflict even more inevitable than it was before.

If negotiation is what human beings normally do to get along with each other, then speaking openly from the heart is abnormal.

So abnormal that it is not to be trusted. When people pretend to be revealing their true feelings, they are usually engaged in an elaborate deception.

Truth be told, you can never know whether someone is expressing what is in his heart or whether he is mounting an elaborate masquerade.

When we ask ourselves whether someone is really speaking from his heart, the standard we use to make the judgment is most often...what we want to hear.

Someone who understands the uses of decoys, lures, and ruses will know that if he wants to trick you into believing that he is speaking from the heart, he does best to echo what you are thinking.

No comments: