By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM– More than any other national leader, Barack Obama has a global constituency. The world does not vote in American elections, but his capacity to fulfill his obligations depends on the cooperation of other national leaders, and the opinions of publics that have at least a minimum of influence on them.
Balancing those far flung publics is not easy. The task may have something to do with the 20 percent of Americans who are think that their president is a Muslim, and his forth and back postures with respect to the controversial idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
The tensions built into the world context of his presidency also help us to understand his repeated efforts to divorce the concepts of Islam and terror, while he is leading the greatest crusade against Islam since the 13th century.
Politicians lie. Of course. They have to. How else to juggle the multiple obligations they are expected to serve. They say one thing and do something else. The higher the office, the more likely the dissembling. And Obama’s is the highest.
His loyal supporters may already be furious at me. He did not begin the war against Iraq. He has proudly announced the withdrawal of combat troops, but commentators are not confident that he is leaving behind anything close to a victory, or a regime that can keep things stable. He has adopted and expanded American military efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Barack Obama makes Richard the Lionheart look like a boy who got into a schoolyard brawl.
Guantanomo is still holding jihadists, despite the president’s campaign pledge to close it down. This may not be his desire, but who can be sure about the desires of a politician who has to serve so many interests, and is beholden to Congress, the courts, advisors who may convince him to abandon some commitments, and–in this case–the governments of other countries not enthusiastic about taking some of those prisoners off his hands?
Obama has had a mixed record on Israel, but mixed records are the nature of political leadership.
After his Cairo speech and demanding a freeze of building for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, only 4 percent of the Israeli Jewish population felt he was supportive. Since then, however, he has backed off from his sweeping demands against the country’s capital city, and his invitation to Israeli-Palestinian talks is close to the Israeli desire of no preconditions.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes what has been seen for some time in Israeli media, that American military aid remains at a high level, with Israeli access to some of the most advanced weaponry, and joint exercises that may surpass what previous administrations have offered. One passage in the WSJ reinforces the image of a crusade against Islamic extremists.
“The intensified partnership is part of the Obama administration’s broader policy of boosting military support for American allies in the Mideast amid heightened tensions with Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas . . .”
Judging presidents is a task best left to historians and others with a broad perspective, some years after an incumbent has left office. Archives, memoirs, and contemplation can take the place of partisan passions. Even distance leaves open a number of difficult issues. How much credit should be given to any president for the nature of a national economy that responds to international and non-governmental stimuli, as well as to what the president does on top of what former presidents did? A dispassionate assessment of what came out of Congress and the White House under the heading of health reform might conclude that it is a mess not likely to deal with the self-serving efforts of insurance companies and HMOs, but only a child would think that a president can dictate legislation in such a context, or even maintain control over the details in a bill that grows from 1,000 to more than 2,000 pages.
Obama stirs passions. Soon after his inauguration, there were reports that he was the most threatened president since the Secret Service began its protection after the assassination of William McKinley. More recent news is that the tempo has declined to what has been the norm.
The President’s 2008 campaign stimulated great emotion, but a careful study of his nomination indicates that it had something to do with the formulas used by state Democratic parties to divide the delegates between him and HIllary Clinton (Mattan Sharkansky, “The Impact of the Electoral System on Delegate Allocations in the 2008 American Primaries,” Representation, 46/2, July 2010). Obama’s victory in November was more clear cut, but we can argue if that was on account of Obama, McCain, or Palin.
Currently the tea leaves do not look promising for his party’s success in the mid-term Congressional elections, and I have not seen any rosy predictions for his success in 2012. That, too, is part of the job. George Washington might have still been a national hero when he left office, but that is not the image of presidents that I have been observing since FDR.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA — Heartwarming words from Sarah Shiha, a student at Ain Shams University in Cairo: “Apart from the political issues, we are humans. I respect your religion, you respect mine.”
Her next comment, on Israel, sounded more robotic than humane: “What we see is that we had a land, and that people came and took this land. Now they want to stay here, and every day they are killing more and more of our siblings.”
Shiha is among 20 students from Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon who participated in a five-week program sponsored by the U.S. State Department to learn how religious pluralism is among America’s great strengths, according to an article in The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia.
It seems that Shiha and her associates could have been a tad more diplomatic, especially since her inflammatory comment might be read by thousands of American Jews. She could have easily sidestepped the question by insisting she needed to learn more about the Israeli/Arabic conflict, couldn’t she? She might have faced more than verbal disdain back home. She might be murdered by her own people.
In the Middle East, free speech can carry a fatal price. Arabs have murdered their own who were suspected of collaborating with Israel, and Arab leaders who suggested or acted upon peaceful existence with Israel. Remember Anwar el-Sadat?
Yasser Arafat indicated that he feared a comparable fate if he assented to the peace plan offered during the Camp David summit 10 years ago. In his book “The Missing Peace,” Dennis Ross (then President Clinton’s Middle East envoy) relates a conversation in which Arafat asked then secretary of state Madeleine Albright if she wanted to attend his funeral. This comment came out of left field, but why else would he say this?
Arafat’s comment could invite some sarcastic responses – such as, his funeral was long overdue. I think his top motive for rejecting the plan was fear that other Arabs would kill him because they refused to accept any peace settlement.
It is clear that many Arabs keep silent because they fear retaliation. Of course, it is impossible to determine how many Arabs really loathe Israel and those who follow the script to protect themselves and their families.
Examples do abound. Before returning to his current prime minister post, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by a television interviewer to identify Arab businesspeople with whom he communicates; he refused because, he said, it would jeopardize their lives. I recently read a report of an Arab man who saved Jews during World War II and told them to say nothing about his help. Israeli leaders claim that Arabs who sold land to Jews denied doing so because they could be harmed.
Some months ago, a native Iranian on a German sports team refused to play against an Israeli team. He did not offer this as a reason, but he still had family in Iran who could be endangered by his participation in that game.
The Arab and Muslim world is tightly controlled in parts. Putting Israel aside, ordinary Arabs and Muslims must worry about violent feuds between families and tribes, honor killings of women and conflicts with the ruling class. On Aug. 8, an Iranian attorney fled to Norway after he defended a woman who faced being stoned to death because she allegedly committed adultery. An Afghan couple were stoned to death, on Taliban orders, because they allegedly cheated on his wife and her family-chosen fiance.
Those familiar with the Middle East attest that roughly half of Turkish and Iranian citizens are sensible people who yearn for more moderate leaders. Egyptian businesspersons worked well with their Israeli counterparts, and Turks in the military oppose their ultra-religious regime.
Tom Friedman of The New York Times reported on a Gazan woman whose son’s life was saved by a Jewish physician at an Israeli hospital. Now she wants her son to blow up…er, grow up…to become a suicide bomber. Consider that she must return home to face not only her neighbors but also Hamas, which has the power to make life miserable for her.
It is most annoying that American Muslims readily complain of bigotry, yet are less consistent in condemning Islamic-related violence – especially when Israelis are victimized. Muslim society in America appears to be closeted and hard to figure out.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the driving force behind the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, dodged a radio reporter’s question as to whether he concurred with the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist group, The New York Jewish Week reported.
Said Rauf: “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question…I’m a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder…I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”
Far from an exercise in clarity.
It is strange that free speech exists on two levels in our own country – one standard for most of us and a self-imposed standard for a stifled and bewildering minority.
Ticker is the Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
He may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sheila Orysiek
SAN DIEGO–This Egyptian princess going down to the Nile to bathe saw an infant in a basket. She realized it was most probably the desperate effort of an Israelite woman to save her little son. Her humanity triumphed over the Pharaoh’s edict to slaughter all male infants among the Israelites. She adopted him as her own. This child grew up to become Moses.
One of a series of seven women of the Hebrew Bible illustrating the moment in their lives when they were at pivotal point, contributed significantly to subsequent events and/or set a precedent in the history of our people.
The original is pen and ink on paper, measuring 16 by 20.
Orysiek is an artist and freelance writer based in San Diego