Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obama And His Views On Governance

Via Matthew Yglesias, I came across this article in Newsweek examining Rahm Emanuel's role in Obama's Middle East strategy. The basic thrust of the article is that despite widespread expectations that Emanuel would act on behalf of the Israeli/neocon right on issues pertaining to Middle East security, he is actually acting quite even-handedly and keeping pressure on Israel on the settlements issue. People based their expectations on his ethnicity and background; Emanuel volunteered in the Israeli military in the first Gulf War, and his father once said that Emanuel would quite naturally force Obama to be pro-Israel because, well, "Why wouldn't he? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to be mopping floors at the White House." But these expectations, at least up to this point, have proven to be largely incorrect.

Reading this piece took me back to the period between Obama's election as president and the time he officially took office. In that period, Obama made a number of choices for his cabinet that rubbed many progressives and liberals the wrong way. The central complaint was that Obama ran on a platform of change and yet was employing many veterans of the Bush (Gates) and Clinton (Hillary, Summers, Geithner) eras that hardly represented the progressive movement of the 21st century. Wasn't this a contradiction, people wondered? How can someone who promised change be so wedded to personalities often tainted by the past?

Obama's answer at the time was that the change would come from him, and the people under him would be tasked with carrying out policy. It was basically George Bush's "I'm the decider" moment dressed up in more articulate language. Here are his exact words at the time:
"Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," he said. "It comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision]."

Other than some major disappointments on the question of detaining terrorism suspects and the rights of prisoners, for which Glenn Greenwald is the best source, Obama has by and large stuck to this vision of having progressive(ish) goals carried out by nonprogressives(ish) people.

People often characterize me -- quite fairly I suppose -- as being too kind or not critical enough about Obama, but when he said those things, I knew he absolutely meant it. Who better than Hillary Clinton (neocon in Dems clothing), Rahm Emanuel (noted above) and Joe Biden (good friend of AIPAC) to sell his vision of the future of the Middle East to the hard Israeli (and American) right? Who better than a Republican Secretary of Defense to sell his plan for disengaging from Iraq and adopting a more sane strategy on Iran? Obama, it appears, is quite a fan of the "only Nixon could go to China" logic --the idea that the best people to cut difficult deals are people who can never be accused of being traitors or outsiders to a cause. This logic, not coincidentally, explains in part the Obama administration's cozying up to Nawaz Sharif as a bulwark against Islamist militantism in Pakistan -- who better than the most popular mainstream politician in Pakistan with streed cred on this very issue?

Anyway, I just thought this whole deal with Emanuel and Israel was quite interesting. You should go read the article; it's got some nice tidbits.

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