It’s Complicated, Stupid!

Glenn Foden

I’m not sure whether the brilliant insights quoted below are from James Fallows, reputedly a really smart person (After all, he was once a speech writer for Jimmy Carter) or Jeffrey Goldberg,The Atlantic’s resident deep thinker on Middle East issues. One or the other analyzes Obama’s Middle East policy with such incredible nuance only a French semioticologist (or proctologist?) could possibly decipher it.

My translation: Trust Le Professeur Obama. It’s too complicated for you ordinary rubes:

…It’s complicated[My comment: Voden?]. We should no longer be surprised that a major Obama speech on an important topic is characterized mainly by its embrace of complexity. Here’s why this matters:

Traditionally the role of a Presidential speech is to say, in bald terms, which side of an issue the Administration is coming down on. Are we going to war, or not? Is the president going to sign a bill, or veto it? People outside the government underestimate how important big presidential speeches are in resolving policy arguments and deciding what an administration’s approach will be.

Obama’s big speeches have been unusual, because the side they come down on is that of complexity[ My comment: Yes, he’s that brilliant]. In his classic [My emphasis] Philadelphia “race in America” speech [My comment: Yes, I forgot; a greater speech than the Gettysburg Address, according big shot professor Garry Wills]: the recognition that every part of our racial mix has its insecurities and blind spots. In his Nobel prize address: that military force is not the answer but is an answer. In his West Point speech a year and a half ago: that the U.S. can’t stay in Afghanistan forever but should stay for a while. You can apply this analysis to almost every major address.

Including these latest speeches. He argued that the United States has “interests” in the Middle East — oil, stability, anti-terrorism — and it also has ideals. So it will try harder to advance its ideals, without pretending it has no (often contradictory) interests. He presented Israel-Palestine in this same perspective. As a meta-point, he said that Israel-Palestine is only part of the larger Arab-world evolution, but is a crucial part. On the merits, he emphasized that Israel has to be secure, that Hamas must accept that reality, that Israel must be able to defend itself — but that it cannot stand pat, wait too long to strike a deal, or forever occupy the West Bank.

My point here is about Obama rather than about the Middle East. From some politicians, for instance those otherwise dissimilar Georgians Jimmy Carter and Newt Gingrich, a collection of “complex” ideas often comes across as just a list. Obama, most of the time, has pulled off the trick of making his balance-of-contradictions seem a policy in itself. Rather than seeming just “contradictory” or “indecisive.” This is unusual enough that it’s worth noting… [My tentative translation: Obama’s even smarter than Carter and Gingrich put together?]


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