I know that a lot of people in my crowd don't like Frank Rich. But I happen to find even some of his excesses entertaining. Yes, he is of the somewhat ritualized left. Still, he is also literate and smart, often hitting on insights almost coincidentally.
"It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Obama" in today's Times is his meditation on the president that actually reads like a conversation between one Rich and another.
Deep into his column he momentarily fixes on what he calls Obama's "challenging" of "Karzai and Bibi." Rich makes nothing of the similarities of the challenging or of the differences between. But I make much of both.
The news outlets focused on Obama's impatience with the Afghani president's infidelity to the United States and its 100,000 troops in the country trying to prop up Karzai's endlessly corrupt regime. Some of it, of course, derives from the unreliability of his putative allies, one day on his side, the next on the side of his enemies. Loyalty is also not something on which the U.S. can depend from its Muslim brothers-in-arms. Anywhere. And certainly not in Afghanistan.
President Obama is stuck with Afghanistan and its American-empowered rulers. This was not his war of choice but his war of necessity, a moral divide designated as such by what the Democrats saw as the confluence of strategic need and strategic opportunity. Even the young and passionate anti-war enthusiasts who campaigned for him (as my son did in Ohio) allowed themselves to chant "yes, we can" at the candidate's exhortations on to Kabul. As my readers know, given the world as it is, I am prone to a forward, even aggressive foreign policy and certainly in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Frankly, I fear with Tom Ricks, as I wrote a few weeks ago, a withdrawal from Iraq of American troops for which the administration seems to be very much on schedule. It is as if the president is so intent on keeping George Bush's war a disaster that he seems to resent even the progress that has been made in the country since own his term began. I write this with fright from the latest news in Iraq. "25 Members of Sunni Family Killed Near Baghdad" reads the headline over a New York Times article reporting the cold-blooded murder of an extended family, some by gunfire, others by slit throats. I doubt that this atrocity was committed by Shi'a. It reads to me like the deed of Sunni fanatics.
And, then, as I write, the Times reports about three "successful" suicide bombings, taking a yet unknown number of lives (but apparently plenty) and two bombings that failed, one leaving its 17 year old perpetrator injured and the other leaving two terrorists dead.
But back to Afghanistan and to its president, Karzai. He is scum. What America does with the president's war of necessity and him as its designated ally is not something I have enough knowledge or insight to advise anyone about. Yet I did notice--how could anybody have missed it?--that in the week before Obama's arrival in Afghanistan Karzai had visited Dr. A'jad in Tehran and then the little Persian thug had visited guest in return. How could anyone have missed this exchange of social calls? Well, almost everybody did. The president of Iran was, well, the president of Iran, phobic, more than slightly mad, anti-Western and anti-Jewish in the extreme.
So why didn't Obama take this up with Karzai? Is it not a significant index of the Afghani president's aspirations for his place in the world? Is not his affinity, although being a Sunni, for the Shi'a extremist a reflection of something endemic in the Muslim orbit as a whole? Is Obama still loathe to draw lines between himself and Ahmadinejad lest he ruin the reset of American relations with the religious fanatics who tyrannize and brutalize Persian civilization. And why won't President Obama for once--and even just for once--speak up for the democracy of Israel, for the civilization of the Jews, for the contributions that both have made, one to the modern world and one to ethical theory, to the very concept of law itself, to enterprise, to science, to learning and to social justice. You ask me. I ask you.
Let us then approach Obama's orchestrated assault on Bibi Netanyahu, an ignominious and insulting assault, sending one underling after another out to beat up on the Israeli prime minister. Including David Axelrod, who knows very little about Israel and Palestine and, for that matter, the Arab orbit and the world of Islam. And I am afraid that Obama knows little more, aside from the grand historical mistakes with which his staff has outfitted him.
The administration's attack on Netanyahu was unrelenting for weeks and cravenly taken up by the press which seems to think that all that is needed for peace to break out is for Israel to stop building apartments in east Jerusalem. The fact is that Obama's fixation on the restriction of new construction in settlements (they are just neighborhoods after all) was a new trope for an American president. Maybe, if he had been able to offer the Israelis some Palestinian concession in exchange, Obama might have elicited a favorable response.
Instead, the president and his people offered "proximity talks," a nearly century-old Arab formula for negotiations in which the Arabs do not confer with the Jews but commune with outside powers. Frankly, I was surprised that Bibi did not say "not on your life." Now, as then, doom is the realistic outcome of this.
We know more or less what the president, in his mixture of ignorance and self-confidence (which usually go together), wants from Israel. We do not know what the president expects from the Palestinians or from the other Arabs who are happy to issue statements, sometimes sounding benevolent, more often belligerent. In the meantime, the Obami talk about Palestine as if it includes all of the West Bank and Gaza. But at 6:12 Greenwich Mean Time there is no sign of Gaza joining up with Judea and Samaria, as the Zionists call it. And my guess is that Hamas will take over Ramallah sooner rather than later, sooner certainly than when Fatah rules in Gaza City. Of these likelihoods and probabilities you hear from the president exactly nothing.
The Obama administration's chastisements of Netanyahu were so suffused with rancor that one hardly needs to wonder what motivated them. Israel was telling the president that peace cannot be entered into as a function of his caprice. That is the truth.
* I’ve changed this item to fix language that I regret.