Monday, November 10, 2008

Dude, you're killing his buzz!

There's a great column in the Jerusalem Post by Barry Rubin in which he tries to bring Obama gently down to earth from his Messiah complex. Rubin hits it spot on, except for his incorrect attribution of the "failure to communicate" line to Paul Newman's "Cool Hand Luke" character -- it was the warden who said that.
In the Middle East, it is not so useful to think yourself popular and show yourself to be friendly. You have to inspire fear in your enemies and confidence in your friends. And if you don't inspire fear in your enemies - if you're too nice to them - then you will indeed foment fear among your friends.

Not everyone thinks the same way. When you talk of "empathy," America's enemies hear the word "fear." When you speak of change, they, too, want change. Unfortunately the change they want means wiping other states off the map, creating radical Islamist dictatorships and kicking the United States out of the region.

This is no misunderstanding: it's a conflict.

[ ... ]

You are going to talk to Iran, negotiate with Syria and try to buy the Palestinians or press the Israelis into making peace. It's your presidency and many Americans think - rightly or not - that this hasn't been tried enough.

But please keep in mind four very important points for when the going gets rough:

1. How much do you offer them and at whose expense? Not too much, please.
2. How closely will you monitor whether or not they are keeping their commitments? Be tough, please.
3. At what point will you conclude that they don't want to end existing conflicts or be America's friends? Don't wait too long, please.
4. What do you do when you figure out this doesn't work? Don't be afraid to admit the truth, blame those responsible and try something else.

[ ... ]

What happens when the Europeans hug and kiss you, then refuse to extend sanctions on Iran further? Will you remain Europe's favorite American president by asking them to do nothing? How will you convince the Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese and others that you are their reliable protector against Iranian nuclear weapons and the advance of Iranian-Syrian power when they know how eager you are to make up - possibly at their expense - with Teheran and Damascus?

Westerners are eager to resolve conflicts; revolutionaries want to use conflicts. You think grievances can be resolved; their grievances are insatiable. Make a concession, they ignore it and demand another. Withdraw from a territory, they occupy it and turn it into a base for the next advance. Explain that you feel their pain, and they add to your pain.

This is what it is like to deal with extremists and ideologues.

Right now you don't understand why Bill Clinton and George Bush couldn't solve a little thing like the Arab-Israeli conflict, defuse the massive hatred of America in the Middle East, end terrorism or turn radical Islamism into an ideology of peace.

Don't worry. You will.

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