Monday, April 26, 2010

Sage Advice for Obama: First Do No Harm on Middle East


by  Jennifer Rubin


From an unlikely publication (Huffington Post) and from unlikely sources (a Wharton professor and a negotiations "expert") comes some generally sound advice for Obama on the Palestinian conflict. The article recommends that Obama:

1. Avoid proposing simple solutions to complex problems. Look for causal linkages, not just proximity. Stopping movie downloads won't stop the rain, and stopping the construction of new settlements won't end centuries of misunderstanding and grievances.

2. Work with these linkages and with the situation as it is, not as he would want it to be. For example, if the Palestinians think they can get all of Palestine just by waiting, President Obama needs to create a better option, either by making it clear that they cannot just wait, or by offering them something they cannot get just by waiting.

3. Understand the complexity of the problem as it is. Making a problem undiscussable does not make the problem go away. President Obama seems to believe that use of phrases like "radical Islam" suggests Americans view Islamic states as terrorists and that the phrase should be banished; actually, this phrase suggests that the United States does make important distinctions between violent terrorists and others who disagree with us strongly but express this through different means. But denying the existence of radicals does not make them or their grievances go away. As long as the Islamic world feels it has real grievances, then palliatives, as expensive as they may be for the Israelis, are not a real solution. And as long as there are Islamic radicals there will be threats to the West, some of them quite severe. While some of these grievances and the problems they create may require real concessions from the West, others may require a truly forceful, even violent military response instead.

4. Above all, President Obama should do no harm. Although this is a Medical School takeaway, not a law school one, it is worth mentioning in conclusion. The law of unintended consequences suggests that any time anyone adjusts a complex system, the results may be surprising. In this instance, we suspect that President Obama and the rest of the world would find the results of this stare-down with Israel disappointing as well.

I'll take exception to the authors' objection to the use of the phrase "radical Islam" (although they aptly note that Obama's aversion to descriptions of our enemies amounts to foolish denial). However, they get to the root of Obama's error in dealing with the Palestinian problem: he's not operating in the real world. It's no accident his Cairo speech zipped past 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism or that he avoids talking about Israel's multiple offers of a Palestinian state — these are unpleasant facts at odds with his linkages and that suggest he is, at best, doing nothing productive and, at worst, making things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that this is the "ideology is so yesterday" crowd. In fact, "ideology" in the worst sense of the word — and as the Obami intend it, as a dig at George W. Bush — is the insistence on seeing the world through dogmatic blinders, impervious to facts and reason. It is precisely what Obama is all about when it comes to the U.S.-Palestinian conflict and why he is dangerously not following the most important bit of advice — "do no harm."


Jennifer Rubin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Many folks around me were happy about Obamas promising new approach, it felt so fresh and new. They (including myself) said: "It's worth the try and if it turns out to be no success, it still can be changed to be a bit more " (Many, including me, do not see the good sides of this guys turn, although they clearly exist, tbh) Now, my doubts towards such a change increase gradually and this article was not intended to lower them ;-) Actually i was never free of them. If the BO-Administration is so convinced of the correctness - and so it seems - whey should they change it now? Now, i see the real meaning of "change", it has already taken place and no further change is to be expected regarding this particular issue, i'm afraid. Oh, and i liked reading this; guess this blog deserves more attention.

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