There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare.
T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
We know how cats, when they inadvertently stumble, tumble or meet with some unexpected embarrassment that disrupts their feline grace, tend to save face by stopping and proceeding to groom themselves, appearing to be sublimely indifferent to whatever obstacle has impeded their progress. Poise is everything. Human beings are no different and the gestures we make to dissemble our discomfiture or mortification are generally quite innocuous and often amusing in themselves. The raised hand to summon an oblivious waiter completes its trajectory by smoothing down one’s hair.
It is only when these deflecting maneuvers are raised to another dimension of intent and practiced by those in a position of great power, especially when embroiled in grave or fateful situations, that they cease to be harmless and diverting. President Obama’s recent foreign policy decisions are a case in point, in particular with regard to Israel.
What is it that might plausibly explain Obama’s obsessive focus on the Israeli/
Palestinian nexus to the exclusion of far more serious and potentially catastrophic world events? Does he have some farsighted plan many of us cannot see that will culminate in unanticipated harmonies? Or is he, like Dubya, too easily swayed by the poor advice of his cronies and confidants? Does he suffer from a debilitating absence of political courage? Or is he, perhaps, not quite as intelligent as adoring multitudes give him credit for, arriving at thoroughly misguided conclusions and policies from mere lack of analytical capacity—as, for example, his stated conviction that Palestine and Iran are mutually implicated, in other words, if the Palestinians get what they want at Israel’s expense, then Iran will obligingly shut down its nuclear facilities? Is he, Heaven forfend, an Islamic mole disguised as a Christian? Perhaps swagger and self-regard provide an explanation, as the President may be bent upon proving that he, and he alone, can solve a problem whose solution has stubbornly defeated his precursors’ best efforts? The phenomenon is initially rather baffling.
There is an actual genocide taking place in Darfur, but the President is apparently more concerned by the presumed atrocity of “natural growth” in Israeli settlements that were acknowledged and vetted by the previous American administration and whose legitimacy can be historically validated. This is apparently a much bigger deal than the 500,000 dead (according to National Geographic News for September 14, 2006!) and millions displaced in the Sudanese ethnic cleansing campaign.
North Korea with its now, almost routine, nuclear tests, its proliferation of nuclear and ballistic technology to the world’s rogue regimes and its defiance of the “international community” surely merits a more studied and effective response than expressions of disappointment by the President, a verbal spanking administered by a pitiable Hilary Clinton, and the threat of revocable sanctions. It clearly requires appreciably more attention than does a scattering of huts and outposts in Judea and Samaria that are, in any case, being dismantled by the Israeli government.
But there is one issue that eclipses them all. Iran is racing to the nuclear finish line, determined to become what Middle East Terrorism expert Walid Phares has called a “Jihadist USSR.” It is developing solid fuel missiles capable not only of reaching American military bases in the region but of targeting major European cities. It is perfecting an EMP platform that constitutes a devastating menace to the United States. Disregarding the United Nations Charter, it has promised to annihilate a sovereign nation, with which it is not officially at war, by atomic holocaust. The potential for a planetary cataclysm is enormous and dwarfs by several orders of magnitude any other geopolitical concern in the world today. Yet Obama is intent on preventing Israel from constructing apartment units in East Jerusaelm while doing nothing to prevent Iran from constructing centrifuges in Natanz.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Mubarak of Egypt, nominal allies of the United States, must be asking themselves why their distinguished counterpart gets so excited over these Israeli apartment annexes when Iran is about to launch a veritable game-changer, one that will alter the entire political complexion of the Middle East, putting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf Emirates at risk—and, indeed, the world along with them.
The President’s stance vis à vis Israel has little to do with America’s national interests or with an accurate reading of political and historical dynamics. It smacks much more of a private agenda on the part of a man who sat for twenty years worth of Sundays in a pew in Pastor Wright’s church, absorbing his anti-Jewish sermons and jeremiads; who counts among his personal acquaintances the director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and former PLO operative Rashid Khalidi, as well as many other Islamic and pro-Islamic supporters such as his campaign coordinators Mazen Asbahi and Minha Husaini and consultant Shakir Muhammad; and who has surrounded himself with demonstrably anti-Israeli advisors and colleagues, too numerous to name here.
The President also knows that dumping on Israel is a popular move in the current international climate and will not be faulted by his legionary supporters at home, in Europe and in the radical sectors of the Arab realm. As noted columnist and author Barry Rubin writes in the GLORIA center bulletin (June 3, 2009), “Israel is a soft target against which to play hardball.” But in focusing so relentlessly on Israel, Obama is taking the easy way out, for the fact of the matter is that he has absolutely no idea what to do about Iran—the very question that will ultimately define his Presidency—except to extend his open hand and, when that is ignored, to smooth down his hair.
When it comes to the principal dilemma confronting American foreign policy, Obama is utterly clueless. He is the wrong President for the wrong time. The undeniable truth is that he is totally out of his depth—or shallows. And that his main talent resides in the art of parrying instances of political awkwardness, diplomatic gaffes and visionary impotence by drawing on his undoubted charm and self-assurance, which his admirers interpret as presidential savvy. As for Israel, a country to which he is anyway ill-disposed, it serves Obama’s purposes wonderfully, allowing him to preserve his sense of aplomb and to keep his ostensible gravitas intact as the international situation continues to worsen.
Obama is not unintelligent nor is he overly impressionable—at least, not any longer—but he is, on the evidence, exceedingly vain and disturbingly arrogant. This is a man who relies on his urbanity and pizzazz to impose his will upon an awed electorate. A man who responds to an unwelcome query with the rejoinder, “I won” and who appears to regard himself as pretty well infallible, irrespective of what reality is telling him. It is this character trait which likely disables him from scrupulously assessing the real nature of the world’s preeminent conflict. It is this which may well account for his obvious reluctance to develop a robust and workable strategy on the Iranian file.
Obama is very good at stalking his smaller domestic adversaries but is extremely wary of anything that imperils the suave kinetics of his savoir faire. Obama is wholly cat, supple in his manifestations and graceful in his demeanor, but a cat who has faltered upon an issue before which he cannot admit his helplessness and lack of moral resolve, his failure of audacity. All he can do is divert attention from his incompetence and partisanship by seizing upon a lesser and comparatively nugatory matter—the natural growth of several previously accepted Israeli settlements. By concentrating on a few square kilometers in the Middle East, he is able to avoid facing the greater problem of the danger to his own nation and to the world as well, a problem he is simply not equipped to manage.
It is obvious that Obama has stumbled over Iran. It is equally obvious that he is intensely preoccupied with grooming his image.