Friday, June 11, 2010

Obama Slows the Long March toward Freedom

Most likely, Francis Fukuyama spoke too soon. You recall that Fukuyama made a name for himself by announcing that history had come to an end and that liberal democracy had prevailed.

Perhaps it was prophecy; perhaps it was wishful thinking. One thing it wasn't, was historical fact.

Fukuyama was assuming that history enacts a struggle for hegemony between different ideals-- assumption that I find dubious-- and he also seemed to suggest that the outcome was predetermined. If history is over and liberal democracy has won, why do we need to do anything to preserve it?

I doubt that this is what Fukuyama meant, but it is certainly one possible interpretation of his thesis.

Today, Fukuyama notwithstanding, freedom seems to be in retreat around the world. Fouad Ajami explains to us today that Freedom House has declared that we are living through a "freedom recession" in the world. Link here.

As Ajami sees it, the financial crisis has been a boon for autocrats and tyrants. He implies that President Obama's abandonment of his predecessor's freedom agenda has contributed mightily to this unfortunate turn of events.

As Ajami puts it: "Meanwhile, America's new standard-bearer, President Barack Obama, had come to a conviction that the pursuit of freedom in distant lands was not a legitimate concern. From his first days in office, Mr. Obama signaled his resignation toward the despotisms of the Greater Middle East: He would take them as they come."

How did this policy shift express itself in reality? To answer the question we need but look at events in Iran a year ago today. Then a manifestly corrupt election caused an "outpouring" of protest by the Iranian people. Eventually, the forces of darkness crushed the Green Revolution, as the United States stood silently by.

Ajami describes the event: "My Obama had bet on Iran's rulers, but a democratic opposition-- in our image, speaking the language of democracy and unfurling its banners-- was in the streets contesting the rulers' will and the rulers' truth. It was a moment of supreme embarrassment for the United States-- a case of both strategic and moral failure on the part of the president."

He continues: "There is no guarantee that categorical American support would have altered the outcome of the struggle between autocracy and liberty in Iran. But it shall now be part of the narrative of liberty that when Persia rose in the summer of 2009 the steward of American power ducked for cover, and that a president who prided himself on his eloquence couldn't even find the words to tell the forces of liberty that he understood the wellsprings of their revolt."

Perhaps, as Ajami says, Obama could not have done more than to assert his solidarity with the "forces of liberty."
The more salient question is whether Obama simply revealed a moment of consummate weakness, or whether his silence revealed a fundamental policy shift, a shift away from freedom and toward autocracy.

It's not about what you believe, but who you stand with. If you want to promote freedom and democracy in the Middle East then you will side with Israel. Not because it is a Jewish state; not even because it is the only trustworthy ally we have in the region; but because it embodies our most important secular values.

Keep in mind that the international left, the one that aligns itself with the Palestinian cause and believes that Israeli success was purchased at the expense of the Palestinians, is mining a narrative that considers America an organized criminal enterprise whose success was purchased by exploiting poor and disadvantaged people the world over.

You cannot turn away from Israel without also turning away from traditional American values. You cannot repudiate a thriving liberal democracy without revealing your vision of and for America. One might have considered Obama's silence at the suppression of the Iranian Green Revolution a function of inexperience and naivete. But given the development of his contemptuous attitude toward Israel, one must see it as policy, not as a Freudian slip.

If we Americans are leading the world on a long march to freedom, then, in the Middle East, Israel is the solution, not the problem.

To the shock of many-- especially those who did not look into Obama's background-- he has tried to marginalize and isolate Israel, to make it the problem more than the solution. When push comes to shove, Obama seems to side with those who have sacrificed their lives to the cause of destroying the Jewish state, and of ending democracy and free enterprise in the Middle East.

No one should have surprised to see Obama's warm handshake with Palestinian Authority President Abbas this week. No one should have surprised to hear that he wanted to send hundreds of millions of American dollars to Gaza, to support the Hamas-ruled government.

But what did the world think when it compared Obama's Oval Office public meeting with Abbas with his prior treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Compared with Abbas, Netanyahu was clearly treated as though he were the leader of a rogue state.

If you saw the contrast, whether you were sitting in Baghdad or Kabul or Damascus, would you conclude that Obama is going to champion your freedom. And if the President of the United States thinks free countries are the problem, not the solution, what incentive do you have to fight for freedom?


Obsidian said...

Hello Dr.,
Don't you think your post was just a weebit hamfisted? There is nothing wrong in my view with Obama or any other American President recognizing the basic humanity of the Palestinian people. And given Israel's actions in recent years, up to and including those who agree with her right or wrong, in sacking a 90 year old lady for daring to disagree with Israel, really shows the Jewish State for its propensity to use a ball-peen hammer to deal with ants.

Israel's got a hue tolerance problem, and so do those who stand with her unflinchingly. They really lost me when they accused former POTUS Jimmy Carter of anti-semitism. Carter, of all people!

Come on.

With all due respect Doc, I really do think you're not being all that objective here. Perhaps your own personal biases are bleeding through just a weebit? Last time I heard, the Palestinians had just as much a right to be free as anyone else.

The Obsidian

Ralph said...


You sound quite unobjective and biased yourself.

Jews are humans too, and Israel is a democracy, not a theocracy. Helen Thomas retired and did not just disagree with Israel, she advocated dissolving Israel as a country.

I voted for Jimmy Carter as an 18 year old, and have regretted that after the Iran Hostage Crisis. With all due respect, I feel I did damage to America with that vote, and do not admire the man he is today. I wish he had retired to a quiet life.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Hi, Obsidian,
Welcome to the blog. I've read your own blog with great interest and have also read your comments on HookingUpSmart.

Here, I fear, you are off the mark. The fact is, the Israelis moved out of Gaza, completely. They left some serious greenhouses that could have been used to brow food. Hamas destroyed them.

Once Hamas took over in Gaza they could have built a free society. They did not want to. They set up rocket launchers and fired thousands of rockets into Israel. They killed and terrorized people.
If you saw rockets raining down on your home and your family you would not consider them to be ants.

As of now they are unwilling to abandon their goal of military conquest in favor of freedom.

As it happens, the Palestinians were offered a free state by Bill Clinton. They turned him down.

Today, the Israeli government is helping the Palestinian authority on the West Bank to develop free market economic institutions. And there has been great economic progress on the West Bank.

Hamas of course is the enemy of freedom, the enemy of progress, the sworn enemy of Israel, and the enemy of everybody who does not think as they think.

If any of that is factually inaccurate, I am willing to hear an opposing point of view.

Susan Walsh said...

Obsidian, are you really claiming here that Israel sacked Helen Thomas? What nonsense! The truth is, she should have been kicked out of the front row at press briefings the minute she started writing opinion. Obviously, her suggestion that Jews return to the land of Auschwitz and Nazi Germany is deeply offensive. Her remarks were rejected by just about every American except Rosie O'Donnell. If she'd had any sympathizers willing to defend her POV, she wouldn't have resigned.

I object to the moral relativism that is regularly applied to this problem. The Palestinians have been offered many compromises, and turned them all down. Why? Because they are holding out for the complete and utter destruction of Israel. They would rather starve their own people while firing rockets at Israel than agree to a peaceful compromise.

How can you even have a conversation with an opponent whose only aim is to see you obliterated? The Palestinian people are not to blame, but their leaders are. How's that working for them? If Palestinians want to be free, they need to elect leaders who will push for a two-state solution.

Obsidian said...

Interesting comments.

1. Jimmy Carter was accused of being an anti-semite and a bigot by those who support Israel. It's in the book The Israel Lobby, as I recall. Carter himself gave interviews on the matter, including NPR. I remember listening. Carter was savaged because he had the gall to say that the Palestinians lived under Apartheid.

2. I never said anything in support of Hamas. I defy any of you to find such a statement. What I said was that the American President was right in recognizing the basic humanity of the Palestinian people. Israel's strategy of "punishing" the Palestinians for thier voting for Hamas, has failed. Just like their notions of rooting out Hezbollah in Lebanon, has failed. Now they've pissed off the lone Muslim ally in the world, Turkey.

3. And as for Ms. Walsh's statements wrt Ms. Thomas, please note that I didn't say one way or another whether she was right or wrong. What I am saying is that simply, if you say something the Jewish people don't like, you're toast. That doesn't sound very democratic, to me.

Oh, and keep in mind, Ms. Thomas is a 90 year old Woman, a far cry from hunting down old Nazi war criminals.

The Israel Lobby is a very interesting book. But not necessarily all that surprising.

Israel cannot win militarily here.

The Obsidian