Barack and Bibi: A Love Story

 

Well maybe not, but the relationship has all the emotion and complexity that would characterize some of the best of them

The two together have always fascinated me, mostly because of the incredibly high stakes they play, both domestic and international, for them and for us. Adding to this dynamic is the fact that they can’t stand each other.

And because both men’s backgrounds are in such stark contrast, they seemed set on a collision course right from the beginning. So with the Iran Nuclear Treaty’s passage almost a certainty, it’s appropriate to reexamine these two major players, and have a look to see if we can’t dig up and identify the elements which motivate them

                    Their Backgrounds:

Bibi

Netanyahu spent a good deal of his youth in the US. In fact he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972 and worked for a time with the Boston Consulting Group. However he soon returned home to Israel because of the death of his brother Yoni, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists while attempting to free hostages during the famous Air France hijacking in Entebbe Uganda. Ironically Bibi himself had joined an elite commando group in 1967 and had also been involved in some heroic military efforts.

These experiences must have affected his outlook and worldview. Bio, which does profiles on well-known people, notes that since that time Bibi became active in international affairs, most involving counter terrorism. Later he was elected Prime Minister in 1996 leading the right wing Likud Party, and was later elected again in 2009

Barack:

Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His background is a bit more familiar to folks than Netanyahu, ironically due in great part to the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump. However a common theme relevant here according to his own writings was one of a struggle to fit in and find an identity. When he later went to Harvard and became president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, one of the reasons he was chosen and succeeded there was his ability to settle the sharply polarized environment there.

Charles C. Johnson of the Blaze, a very conservative outlet, said that conservatives at the Review believed Obama would be more conciliatory and less strident in his liberalism, or that he would proceed in better faith. “He was courteous, decent, and respectful of conservatives, who were a distinct minority on the law review staff,”  said Brad Berenson, class of ’91.

The Outcome:

So here was Bibi who developed a muscular commando shoot-from-the-hip approach to an unstable world (not unlike our neoconservatives in the US, who worship him).

In fact, his critics joked about this belligerence, particularly during his obsession with the Iran nuclear deal, insisting that Bibi had been claiming that Iran had breakout capability for a nuclear weapon in 2 years every year for the past 20 years.

Obama on the other hand with his more academic and thoughtful (some say too thoughtful) “community organizer” approach to politics and conflict, must have looked to Bibi as one of those skinny whining do-gooders in a Kibbutz.

      The Love Runs Out of the Relationship

If there ever was love there, two incidents occurred that sealed its doom.

In reality there was never any evidence that Obama felt comfortable in the same room with Bibi before this time, but these two events created such personal animosity between the two (particularly from Obama’s perspective) that many in the two countries feared an irrevocable breach between the US and Israel.

Bibi’s Gives a History Lesson:

Like many Presidents, Obama tried his hand at the Arab-Israeli conflict, regrettably so.

He and his Middle East consiglieri decided to lead the talks with the premise of “pre-1967 borders” as a starting point for negotiations. They must have felt secure since, as writer Michael Burch notes, this was also the position of past administrations, including those of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan regardless of where the talks ultimately went.

The result was that Bibi overreacted, or more accurately he went off the rails.

So after a 90 minute meeting with Obama in the Oval Office the two came out to a press conference where Bibi preceded to instruct Obama on Israel or, in a larger sense, Middle Eastern history.

With the cameras running, Stephen Collinson of AFP wrote that Bibi warned Obama not to chase “illusions” of Middle East peace thereby opening a deep rift in US-Israel ties. Such borders in Israel were “indefensible”.

So much for Obama’s foray into big Arab Israeli initiatives.

The Iranian Deal

But the best (or worst) was yet to come.

The Speech

It’s hard to deny that Bibi’s fight against the Iranian Nuclear Treaty isn’t genuine.

However, it’s also hard to deny that John Boehner (who invited Bibi to speak before Congress) as well as Bibi who eagerly responded were eagerly indulging in domestic politics. In fact, Bibi was just at the threshold of an election in Israel.

It was especially egregious of Boehner who, like Bibi, knew absolutely nothing about the terms of the treaty at that time. Making things worse, he didn’t inform the White House which was in the thick of negotiations with Iran at that very time. So much for “politics stops at the water’s edge”, or with foreign policy.

In any case, it was unprecedented. Here was a foreign head of state invited to speak before Congress taking a position against a treaty at the very moment the President’s government was in talks on that very treaty with an adversary of the US (and make that a government that has always supported at great expense the very survival of Israel for generations).

The Critics at Home:

Bibi was not without his detractors, especially at home.

Many in the Israeli military and security establishment were very concerned about his behavior. In an unprecedented move, 180 retired Israeli generals and former top security officials warned that his speech in the US on Iran’s nuclear program “will cause more harm than good”. Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad (Israeli’s CIA) doesn’t buy Netanyahu’s hysteria and said “Israel is a country surrounded by enemies, but the enemies do not scare me,” he said. “I am scared of our leadership”

       US – Israel Relationship: Still Strong

The real love story involves this unbreakable relationship and will always survive hotheads. Two heros of Israel backed Obama:

Ehud Barak:

As for Bibi’s “1967 borders are indefensible,” seminar, Michael Burch points out that he was refuted at the time by the man most responsible for defending Israel’s borders: his own Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. In an interview with Edmund Sanders of the Los Angeles Times, Barak pointed out that Israel has the most powerful military within a 1,000-mile radius of Jerusalem and thus has no reason to feel insecure

Shimon Peres:

Josh Gerstein of Politico covered an event where former Prime Minister Shimon Peres said of Obama during a statement to reporters, “You arrive here already with an impressive record of answering our needs, particularly and unforgettably in the domain of security,”.

“The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran,” added Peres, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama last year. “We trust your policy which calls….to try [to resolve the issue] by non-military means with a clear statement that both other options remain on the table. You have made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent.”

Both Ehud Barack and Shimon Peres have said that Obama has been unique in US Presidents in his unwavering support all Israel’s security concerns

So the relationship between the US and Israel will survive again.

 

 

 

Welcome to UserFriendlyPolitics.com

The Theme

This site will be geared toward the political novice as well as the wonky sophisticate, and the lines of “politics” may be blurred at times to include for example critical social events of the day.

Whether I was working with a partner to create a website for a company or predicting political turmoil in Saudi Arabia in an international affairs article, I always prided myself in trying to reach a wide audience by making difficult topics or trends more approachable.

This doesn’t mean “dumbing down” the topic or patronizing the reader with simple sugary substitutes. Instead it means clearly describing compelling issues, and if I do my job, this process should be dynamic and fun, and not a boring confrontational food fight.

In these polarized times, it can be difficult to remain civil as passions run high. However with some tolerance and humor, you can deflate any potential contentious  debates without watering down one’s ideas.

For example, my brother Alex loved religion, politics, and the current events of the day. Yet he managed to discuss or debate these issues with a certain amount of love and respect that was disarming. As in life, I will try to measure up to his standard in this blog.

My goal will be to publish a relevant topic weekly

The Blogger:

I studied political science and language at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and received a diplome in Basic Russian Studies at the Eastern European Institute of Fribourg University in Switzerland. I continued my classes in International Affairs with a focus on Russia and the Middle East at the School of International Service at American University. I left there and ultimately began work in New York in International business and sales. I believe I learned more about International politics there in my travels than in all my time in the academic world.

I have been passionate about politics since high school. Please come join us.

The Donald J. Trump Instruction Manual

 

Surveying the model airplane parts scattered around you as a kid at Christmas, you reached for the instruction manual and the comfort it provided.

Maybe that same confusion those scattered parts caused is there again as you watch Donald Trump flatten all comers. To add to your confusion, this is happening while countless political pundits, experts, and analysts have been diminishing their reputations a bit with (continuing) predictions of some religious miracle that will soon bring him down.

The result is a proliferation of Trump soothsayers and “experts” popping up—writing forensic texts that will take you deep into the hearts, minds, and intentions of Trump and the American people to explain this phenomena.

So I will offer an explanation as an instruction manual, a salute to the time honored reliable source your Dad might have poured over while assembling your bike. I’ll try to bring us back to the fundamentals as Trump would, (I say this with some embarrassment). I believe this is where much of the truth to the Trump phenomenon lies, and I’ll outline this with my instruction manual steps:

Instruction Manual Step 1: The Resurrection

I’ve never seen someone so publically, mercilessly (and deservedly) eviscerated before a national audience than when President Obama at a White House Correspondence Dinner, suggested maybe Trump could now investigate the moon landing after Obama presented the long form version of his birth certificate. This continued relentlessly and Trump never laughed and finally apparently stormed out.

I thought it was over for Trump and since then I saw him as a rich but beaten man, the subject of endless late night jokes, and I don’t think one can underestimate what that can do to an extremely proud, competitive, and vain personality.

What a glorious feeling he must experience now to get off his helicopter to adoring crowds and say the Russian, Chinese, and Mexican leaders are so much smarter and tougher than our leaders (guess who). This is part of an extraordinary comeback which must at least in large part be driving him forward.

Instruction Manual Step 2:    The Perfect Storm 

Donald Trump has been the supreme benefactor of some colliding political and social forces, some of the most important I will explain below.

Instruction Manual Subtext A:   Political Chaos    

-Hillary

Hillary is experiencing a public meltdown, combined with an ineffective staff unable to forecast or control events and unable to manage Hillary’s forever defensive pose (no apologies necessary).

The biggest casualty here is that her moral authority to confront Trump or the others has been weakened.

–Republican Primary Challengers

Probably the biggest political spectacle I’ve seen is the crowd of challengers to Trump who seem to be waiting around for something to happen. Trump couldn’t ask for a more perfect group of foils. Rather than a robust challenge to his dubious, sometimes outrageous ideas, they seem to timidly mimic or appease him so as not to disturb the bear. Jeb Bush is probably the worst offender and has the most to lose with this strategy.

—Ideology Doesn’t Matter

Trump has proven that personality trumps ideology. He plays conservative and liberal roles brilliantly by nimbly straddling the fence using personal flair and entertainment. This is why it’s so hard to attack him despite what have been called egregious and cynical position changes.

Trump just keeps his eye on the ball, profiting by those factors mentioned above, and must see an open road ahead.

Instruction Manual Subtext B:   The Culture of Fear

–Trump as Saudi Arabian Emir

I wrote a short piece in Worldpress.org about the Saudi Arabia which certainly cannot be used as a comparison, but there are some very interesting social and political parallels

If people only perceive that their cherished world and value system are being seriously threatened by forces beyond their control (in my article it was westerners and corrupt leadership) they can become politically agitated and organize as has been the case here (the Tea Party is an example) in an effort to return to a romanticized past.

And there is no lack of research which concludes that in the US wage stagnation, globalization, and other political, social, and economic factors are creating an enormous amount of anxiety and discomfort in the American people about what they value most in their lives.

Whether Trump capitalizes on this fear or some other charismatic leader does, they defy the normal political science election models and are more a social phenomenon.

–Lack of Faith in Leadership

Fear and unease have been exacerbated by the perceived weakness in Congress, particularly with the Republicans.

The failure of countless threats and promises against Obama (who is still there by the way) has been keenly felt by the base. For example the promise to kill Obamacare has led to over 50 futile legislative attempts which didn’t fool anybody and a disastrous and humiliating government shutdown.

In addition Obama has had some liberal wins lately (Obamacare in court, The “Dreamers”, Gay marriage and others) and his executive orders increase this perception of Republican Party’s impotence.

Instruction Manual Step 3:   Power Versus Money and Why He’s Here to Stay

Some years back, my crowded taxiway at Raleigh Durham Airport was suddenly halted and the pilot said all airspace was closed between Raleigh and Washington. I knew something significant was happening, and then noticed out my window a military helicopter patrolling the airfield and perimeter back and forth and back and forth about 20 feet above the ground.

Then I saw them. Three marine helicopters arrived in formation and just before landing, two of them which were decoys broke off and the one remaining pulled up close to Air Force One which in the meantime had been brought up.

Air Force One then moved quickly to the runway facing the opposite direction that we were assigned and began its takeoff roll right away. As it roared down the runway there was a high speed helicopter accompanying it which positioned itself between Air Force One and our jets as it passed by and lifted off. It was Reagan at the time and I will never forget it.

You can’t buy that kind of supreme authority as you can’t buy the position of most powerful person on earth.

I believe Donald Trump understands and covets this so don’t believe those who say he will get tired of this and leave soon to go home and make more money. I think he’s got the taste for it now

Instruction Manual at Completion (or Why is He Here At All?)

Trump has been viewed from the start as some kind of aberration that would self-correct shortly and we could then get back to that comfortable predictability of traditional politics and eating a lot of fried food in Iowa.

But after a review of my manual with its conclusions, you might have begun like I have to think his presence appears much more understandable if not inevitable. This is supported by the unexpected success of the lessor known faux Trumps in the race. These “anti-establishment” burn-the-place-and-start-again candidates are proposing some equally implausible and extreme policies yet are rewarded and not mocked for them.

Some say that this is a healthy expression of all sides. But I would say that this is an especially unhealthy phenomenon, and that the political impulses created are outgrowths of the negative factors outlined in the manual. They are certainly not appealing to our better nature, but instead to extreme pitchfork politics (apologies to Pat Buchanan), which reside in many of us I’m afraid.

The system works when there is a robust environment characterized by genuine diversity, tolerance, and respect. However this might require some long term repair of the historical, political, and social aspects discussed here.