January 8, 2009

A Defense of Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama is getting grief from all corners for refusing to say anything substantial about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It’s a legitimate complaint up to a point. Obama deliberately campaigned as a Rorschach candidate upon whom would-be supporters could project their own views. The downside to Obama’s strategy is that potential opponents can also project their criticisms onto him and he’ll be left with too few friends instead of too many. In this case, both supporters and enemies of Israel who assume Obama agrees with them can criticize him for not speaking up.

In less than two weeks, when Obama is officially inaugurated as President of the United States, this will change. A president has to take a position and live with the consequences. Executive leaders must stand alone with their decisions and cannot vote “present.”

That said, I’d like to weigh in here as supportive of Obama’s decision to keep quiet.

I don’t know what Obama really thinks about Israel’s war in Gaza, but I can guess. He has a track record of relevant statements, and his most recent was this one: “If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” It’s possible, though, that he only said that to reduce skepticism among Israelis. Perhaps Obama is quietly joining France’s Nicolas Sarkozy in his condemnation of Israel instead of quietly joining Germany’s Angela Merkel in her support.

Whatever he thinks, his silence ought to be welcomed among supporters of Israel for at least one of two reasons.

If Obama opposes Israel’s use of force to defend itself from missile attack, he deserves credit for keeping his opinion to himself while he is not actually president. As he has stated on several occasions: the United States only has one president at a time. “We can’t have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time,” he says. “We simply can’t do it.” He could try to undermine the current President Bush, but he’s right that it wouldn’t be proper.

On the other hand, perhaps he silently supports Israel’s short operation in Gaza against a terrorist army with whom he himself repeatedly said he would refuse to negotiate. If he said so out loud, though, his global “hope and change” honeymoon would be over before it even began. It’s not in his interest to hobble himself from the start, nor is it in America’s interest or Israel’s.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 8, 2009 10:07 AM
Comments

You defend Obama by saying it wouldn't be proper for him to "undermine" Bush by speaking out, but he did exactly that multiple times during the past several years.

Posted by: djs44 Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 11:28 AM

Where in that article does Sarkozy blame Israel? He actually blames both Israel and Hamas, if you follow it carefully. But I imagine when you're not trying to be correct, but rather prove a point you don't look for those kinds of things. And why do you fail to mention Sarkozy is the one working hardest to stop the violence...why doesn't that matter.

"You defend Obama by saying it wouldn't be proper for him to "undermine" Bush by speaking out, but he did exactly that multiple times during the past several years."

For the past several years he has either been a candidate or a senator...two kinds of people that are supposed to speak out. Now he is neither but is President Elect. I do wish he'd speak out, but that statement is utterly senseless.

Posted by: Tim Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 12:14 PM

I think the criticism regarding his silence does have merit, in that all this time, since the November Election, he has been all-too vocal in holding press conferences from his president-elect podium to offer comments on the economic crisis (didn't he do one today on the stimulus package?), auto bailout, Iran...and now for some inexplicable reason he votes "absent" on this important foreign policy issue, deferring to "one president at a time"? I don't buy it.

Posted by: wordsmith from nantucket Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 1:19 PM

While I agree it would've been highly unethical of Obama to play second chef in the kitchen but it did not stop him regarding any other subject and he is doing it even as we speak.

With ME this time, Obama got stay of execution.

War will be over before inauguration. Post-factum he will say anything he wants. That is unless there is going to be another one during his watch. Then Obama might have to eat his words if not careful today. Besides why hold Israelis today, they might succeed, Obama's life will get easier.

Tim,

Nobody is trying to stop the war at the moment.
That is of those who matters.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 1:47 PM

Where in that article does Sarkozy blame Israel? He actually blames both Israel and Hamas, if you follow it carefully.

Tim, it is surprising that somebody who parses words as carefully as you do, didn't see that what MJT said of Sarkzoy is that he condemns Israel. Not that he blames Israel. The words are different. And condemning both sides, doesn't mean that he didn't condemn Israel. It just means that he also condemned Hamas. I don't think that is very helpful, myself. And look at the Title of the article:

Sarkozy leads international pressure on Israel to halt Gaza bloodshed

Not pressure on Israel and Hamas/Arabs. Pressure on Israel, alone. The implication is clear.

As for Obama, I agree with MJT (and with Obama) that he should remain quiet when it comes to crisis situations, until he is actually in the White House. If he wishes to make statements of intent in regards to what his general policy will be, that's fine.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 1:57 PM

I'm sure Hamas is hoping that Obama will immediately want to step in with a Peace Accord, which of course they'll sign because then the U.S. can shower them with billions of dollars of aid, and give them legitimacy until they decide it's time to be troublemakers again. Which shouldn't take long.

Posted by: Hal C Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 2:43 PM

I have no doubt Obama and Bush are in daily communication on this, with both adjusting accordingly. In this hyper democracy everyone seems to believe we have, we are like children believing we should be in on every detail leading to a decision. Truman had a favorite saying: History will prove me correct.

Posted by: JohnJimson Author Profile Page at January 8, 2009 6:47 PM

I'm sorry Michael, but respectfully disagree. The era of pre-9/11 wish washiness should be allowed to comeback. Why would it be wrong for the Obama to say that Israel should be allowed to protect itself or Israel isn't the agressor in this fight. It has endured thousands of rocket attacks for the last six months, but judging by the MSM reporting you'd think the Israelis opened up on Gaza because a Mr Softie ice cream truck accidently wandered into Israel. Just you watch Vice President Elect Biden's prediction will come true, the Obama is going to be making a lot of mistakes. And not speaking up for Israel is one of them.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at January 9, 2009 1:16 AM

The era of pre-9/11 wish washiness should be allowed to comeback.

Not until I can get on an airplane without taking my shoes off.

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at January 9, 2009 4:59 AM

Depending upon what he ends up saying - and doing, as the chief executive - I have no problem with him remaining quiet, for the time being.

However, I cannot help but question this studied quietude, given his willingness to speak up, and speak up rather forcefully, when it comes to other issues. From that vantage point and if only intuitively, it seems more worrisome. Still, time will tell.

Posted by: Michael_B Author Profile Page at January 9, 2009 1:10 PM
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