Carter Is Worse Than Clint

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-4-12

Bill Clinton was smart enough to keep Jimmy Carter, the Herbert Hoover of the Democratic Party, away from the 1996 Democratic National Convention; Barack Obama should have been equally wise. Instead, the ex-president will give a video address to Democratic delegates in Charlotte tonight, with the convention chair declaring Carter “one of the greatest humanitarian leaders of our time and a champion of democracy.” Not quite.

Throughout his 1992 campaign, then-Governor Clinton feared being branded ”another Jimmy Carter,” and proclaimed ”Jimmy Carter and I are as different as daylight and dark.” The Democrats’ invitation to Carter is as reckless as the Republicans’ invitation to Clint Eastwood. But if “Dirty Harry” undermined Republican dignity by trash-talking to an empty chair, Sanctimonious Jimmy has repeatedly threatened Democratic credibility by standing on a wobbly platform, kowtowing to dictators, and reminding voters of the modern era’s greatest Democratic presidential failure.

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Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978 (Bill Fitz-Patrick / Jimmy Carter Library)

Between 1977 and 1981, Jimmy Carter inherited a country that was worried and left it demoralized, an economy that was sagging and left it limping, a foreign policy that was floundering and left it failing. Under his watch, Iran fell, inflation soared, and “malaise” became the buzzword of the moment, as Americans feared their power and prosperity were disappearing forever. Jimmy Carter helped spawn the Reagan Revolution, serving so usefully as the pathetic, impotent set-up man to Ronald Reagan’s vigorous, upbeat “Morning in America” routine.

As an ex-President, Carter has done some good, setting an example of public service—not private gain—and fighting disease in Africa, just as he had some presidential accomplishments, notably brokering the Camp David Peace Accords. But ex-President Carter spent too much time running for the Nobel Prize, playing a role more suited to the President of Europe than an American ex-President by catering to the Continent’s appeasement instincts. Carter seemingly never met a dictator he did not like, palling around with Yasser Arafat, Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, and the Chinese oligarchs, hugging Hamasniks, while toadying to Syria’s late dictator Hafez al-Assad in person and print—one chapter in Carter’s infamous book on the Middle East mostly rehashed his meetings with Assad, making the Syrian strongman seem like a likeable, peace-seeking fellow.

Of course, that book achieved the most notoriety because of its inflammatory, inaccurate, insulting title: “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.” In the book, Carter did not even bother making the case against Israel on those grounds, barely mentioning the word or adducing evidence. And when pressed, he innocently claimed he was not accusing Israel of racism or piling on with the demonizers against the Jewish State; to him, “Apartheid” meant apartness. As I wrote then, using the Apartheid label without seeking to impute racism would be like calling Carter a redneck and claiming it referred only to his tanning habits. Anyone unaware of the term’s resonance is not the Middle East expert Carter purports to be.

Barack Obama has tried to be the Democratic Reagan—healing America economically and transforming it ideologically—not Jimmy Carter redux, weakening America abroad and flailing economically at home. Obama has sought to demonstrate that he is not just pro-Israel, but he is sensitive to Israeli sensibilities. And Obama has worked to push American foreign policy beyond Carterite apologetics or Bushesque saber-rattling. Just as Repulicans did not feature former President George W. Bush at their convention last week in Tampa, Democrats could have not invited Carter. Instead, they handed Republicans a gift by honoring Carter at the convention, giving this presidential has-been center-stage when others such as Clinton did not. The Carter lovefest shows insensitivity to the buzzword of this year—the optics—not just with Israel but with American voters.

Just when Barack Obama must inspire Americans away from taking an “ABO”—Anybody but Obama—tack, it is counter-productive and self-destructive to highlight the prim, brittle, holier-than-thou, more-left-than-the-American-mainstream, far too European-oriented politician. As a candidate in 1980, Carter lost ten points in the polls just days before Election Day when Republicans took up the motto “ABC”—Anybody but Carter. That’s exactly how Ronald Reagan won.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

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Obama should be happy not sober on his 50th Birthday

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-2-11

Barack Obama turns fifty this Thursday, August fourth. Both he and his country appear battered these days, as Obama’s White House recuperates from the bruising debt ceiling showdown and the United States remains stuck combating two wars along with one long-lasting recession. But the progress Obama and America have made since 1961 is extraordinary — and should remind Obama, along with other doubters, that it is premature to count out America.

The United States into which Barack Obama was born in 1961 was deeply segregated due to an endemic, seemingly unchangeable racism, and profoundly scared due to an implacable, seemingly indestructible foe, the Soviet Union. Just days before young Obama’s birth, on July 25, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation about the growing showdown in Berlin, warning that the United States would go to war, even nuclear war if necessary, to stop the Soviets from overrunning West Berlin. Nine days after Obama’s birth, on August 13, the Soviets began building the wall dividing Berlin which would symbolize the Cold War stalemate for the next three decades.

Obama was also born into a world still shell-shocked by World War II and the Holocaust – in Israel, Adolph Eichmann’s trial for crimes against humanity was winding down. Demographers count Obama as a Baby Boomer, part of the population explosion and surge in family building that began in 1946 when more than 16 million American GIs began demobilizing. And it is sobering to compare America’s family stability, traditional values, and communal interconnectedness in 1961 with today’s age of disposable relationships, indulgent impulses, and self-involvement.

Still, Obama is not a classic Baby Boomer, like Bill and Hillary Clinton. He was too young to watch Howdy Doody as a child, too young to draft-dodge or fight in Vietnam, too young to march for Civil Rights, too young to lie about having been at Woodstock – in 1969 he was nine. Instead Obama, and his wife Michelle, watched the Brady Bunch when they were kids — it was Michelle’s favorite show — and came of age politically during Ronald Reagan’s 1980s.

Becoming an adult in the Reagan era – Reagan became President in 1981 when Obama was 20 – Obama learned from liberalism’s excesses in the 1960s. In his book Audacity of Hope, Obama shows a sensitivity to cultural forces that his politically-obsessed Baby Boomer elders lacked. He saw the failures of the Great Society, economically, politically, culturally. He learned the limits of liberalism and Big Government, discovering that politics cannot shape everything, that culture, tradition, patriotism, religion, community matter. Yet, as a product of the politically correct 1980s – and by the late 1980s Harvard Law School at the height of PC-mania — Obama absorbed a series of assumptions that continue to color his worldview.

Domestically, the intense opposition to Ronald Reagan caricatured the Republican Party as the party of greed, corporate America as more irresponsible than innovative, and white male culture as bitter and bigoted. Regarding foreign policy, the fights against nuclear proliferation, South African apartheid, and Reagan’s policies in Central America, crystallized biases against American power and in favor of the Third World, even as Reagan’s military resurgence helped bankrupt the Soviet Union, leading to America’s victory in the once-seemingly unwinnable Cold War.

This mishmash of impulses, recoiling from classic Sixties liberalism and the Reagan counter-revolution, explains some of the paradoxes and blind spots in Obama’s presidency so far. He can infuriate his liberal allies by accepting budget cuts, and by championing moderation, because he saw in 1980, 1984, and 1988 how addictions to liberal orthodoxy killed Democratic presidential prospects. But by blaming the financial crash on corporate greed and Republican deregulation, without acknowledging Democratic culpability in demanding easy access to mortgages, he could fill his team with Clinton-era retreads who helped trigger the crisis, and, when pressured, resorts to a politics of petulance and finger-pointing that belies his more moderate impulses.

In dealing with the world, his PC-politics explain his apologias for America’s alleged sins, his unconscionable preference for an illusory engagement with Mahmound Ahmadinejad rather than bravely endorsing freedom when Iranian dissidents first rebelled, his instinctive sympathy for the Palestinians, his inexplicable dithering on the Syrian file, and his penchant for disappointing American allies. At the same time, he learned enough from Reagan’s assertiveness, and was traumatized enough a decade ago during September 11th, that he has given the kill order when confronting pirates at sea, intensified the technique of assassination by drone aircraft, reinforced America’s presence in Afghanistan, and hunted down Osama Bin Laden unapologetically.

The poet T.S. Eliot called the years between fifty and seventy “the hardest” because “You are always being asked to do things, and yet you are not decrepit enough to turn them down.” For the next year and a half, and possibly for the next five and a half years, Barack Obama will be asked to do heroic things, daily, lacking the luxury of refusing most requests.

When he started campaigning for the Presidency, had he anticipated how devastated the US economy would be, he would have shorted the market. Instead, he has had a much tougher slog in office than he ever anticipated. As he passes his personal milestone, and anticipates his re-election campaign, he should reflect on all the changes America has experienced in his brief lifetime. In particular, Communism’s defeat, and racism’s retreat, along with the dazzling array of technological miracles Americans engineered, should remind him of America’s extraordinary adaptability, steering him toward a more Reaganite faith in the American people and American nationalism, and away from his current, Jimmy Carteresque doubts about Americans and their ability to continue to prosper and to lead the world.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

Gil Troy: Center Field: Obama should resist Jerusalem Syndrome

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-26-09

US President Barack Obama should resist succumbing to the presidential version of Jerusalem Syndrome. For commoners, the malady describes the messianic delusions some experience visiting the Holy City. For presidents, the malady reflects the messianic peacemaking delusions that some, especially Democrats, experience when simply thinking about the Holy City.

In fairness, president Jimmy Carter was struck by Jerusalem Syndrome and it worked (at first). In a classic display of presidential willpower – backed by American might – Carter forced Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin into the Camp David peace treaty. The accords – signed 30 years ago today on March 26, 1979 – played to the presidential conceit that statesmanlike elbow grease could solve intractable problems, especially in the Middle East.

Although it was not clear then, the Egypt-Israel problem was relatively easy. While Egypt’s hatred toward Israel had been lethal, its objective interest in attacking Israel was minimal and territorial losses to Israel had diminished Egypt’s appetite for fighting. Trading Israel’s control over the under-populated Sinai desert for Egypt’s promise of peace did not involve masses on either side. Few Israelis considered the Sinai historically theirs. American payoffs created a competing national interest for Egypt not to attack, while compensating for the resources Israel enjoyed after capturing the Sinai to stop Egyptian aggression in 1967.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is much thornier. Competing land claims, shifting borders, mutually exclusive ideologies and overlapping boundaries with some areas characterized by Israelis surrounded by Palestinians, and others with Palestinians living cheek by jowl with Israelis, make Carter’s impressive work look like child’s play. Nevertheless, the first Democratic president after Carter, Bill Clinton, wanted to outdo him. Solving the Palestinian problem became Clinton’s Holy Grail.

It is easy to forget that Clinton nearly succeeded. Thanks to an unexpected Norwegian back channel, he hosted his own White House peace ceremony on September 13, 1993 as prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat approved the Oslo Accords (their respective foreign ministers actually signed). The famous moment wherein Clinton stretched out his arms and seemingly squeezed the two rivals into shaking hands symbolized his twist to the Carteresque aspirations of president as super-duper peacemaker.

Alas, by 2000 the Middle East became one of Clinton’s greatest failures. Despite hosting Arafat more times than any other foreign leader, he failed to transform this arch-terrorist into the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. Clinton’s search for a Middle East peace became an extended exercise in futility. Rabin was dead, murdered by a fellow Jew enraged by Israel’s concessions. The Palestinians, stoked by Arafat, had turned from negotiations back to terrorism, using weapons Israel and America supplied to slaughter hundreds of Israelis.

In his memoirs, Clinton would recall how Arafat – who was so dangerous because he was such a good liar – “thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was.” “Mr. Chairman,” Clinton replied, finally seeing through Arafat after years of being charmed, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.”

It is hard for presidents to realize the limits of their power. Everyone they meet bows and scrapes – at his first presidential press briefing, Obama was taken aback when all the reporters stood as he entered. In that kinglike bubble, it is easy to forget your constraints. And when a president faces overwhelming problems like the current economic crisis, the search for a quick win, an easy fix, becomes irresistible.

Clinton’s sad experience should remind Obama – and Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – that the Middle East is not easily fixed. Alas, it seems that Obama may have to learn this lesson on his own. The quick handoff of the Middle East file to former senator George Mitchell suggests an impatience and a grandiosity – two deadly traits in Mideast peacemaking. The delusional but growing Brent Scrowcroft-Zbigniew Brzezinski consensus that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the key to solving America’s problems with the Muslim world blinds policymakers to radical Islamists’ animus toward the West.

Osama Bin Laden began his jihad against the West in the 1990s, during Oslo’s heyday. He only began mentioning Palestinians with any consistency after September 11, to make his mass murder play to Western fantasies about “why they hate us.” Now, apparently top officials are urging Obama to deal with Hamas, overlooking that group’s genocidal, anti-Semitic charter. Perhaps most destructive of all is the growing assumption – popular among many leftist Israelis and American Jews – that Israel must be bullied to the peace table. This condescending presumption suggests that Israel is too immature to chart its own destiny and Papa America must take charge.

Oslo’s collapse taught that Israeli-Palestinian peace should be nurtured from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down. All the negotiators’ bonding mattered little with Palestinian schoolchildren digesting a steady diet of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hatred. The suicide bombers and falling Kassams prove that ceding territory and declaring conflicts solved is not enough. Even President Shimon Peres, who has never acknowledged his Oslo failures, admitted that the unilateral retreat from Gaza was a mistake.

This is not an argument for presidential passivity but a call for presidential caution. Swooping down with a peace plan will not work. Seeking a Middle East grand slam to compensate for economic strikeouts is foolhardy and not even politically wise. Carter could not parlay his Camp David success into a reelection triumph – and he left office mocked for ineptitude. Obama should approach the Middle East as he approached his election campaign – with bucketfuls of hope floating on a careful, disciplined strategy rooted in reality, cognizant of complexity and measured for success.

The X factor in the American election

JPost, July 13, 2008

Throughout much of George W. Bush’s reign, the newspapers and blogosphere have been filled with dire warnings about the state of America. Much of it was so hysterical, it was easy to dismiss it as “Bushophobia,” a reflection of the irrational, intense hatred this president provokes, especially among elites.

In fact, for much of the Bush years, America’s economy did well. Quarter after quarter, experts would warn about sobering outcomes, and yet the numbers kept on illustrating a much rosier picture. As long as the economy was strong, Bush’s popularity ratings could plummet, New Orleans could sink, Iraq could become a quagmire, but the overall tone in the United States remained surprisingly upbeat.

All that has changed. The talk in the United States has turned, people frequently admit their economic distress, focusing on limited finances now or worries about limitations to come. The most visible symbol of this new economic reality is that gasoline is now consistently over $4 a gallon.

People are cutting back, redirecting resources they once piddled away on luxuries toward keeping up with their necessities. As a mark of this shift, Starbucks, one of the great symbols of early 21st century indulgence with its $4 cups of coffee, just closed 600 stores. It seems that the Bush daydream has become the Bush nightmare.

This energy and economic trauma on top of all the other traumas should make it a simple election for the Democrats. No matter who wins the White House, everyone is expecting a Democratic sweep of Congress. On Capitol Hill, Republicans are bracing for a bloodbath, Democrats are already squabbling over the spoils. With Barack Obama leading in the polls, with John McCain retooling his campaign team, this election should be a slam dunk win for the Democrats.

But the dynamics of the presidential campaign are not that easy. Remember President Michael kis? He was crowned the presumptive successor to Ronald Reagan in 1988 as he enjoyed a double digit lead in the polls over George H.W. Bush throughout the summer. But Bush was able to come back and defeat him.

The office of the president is so personal, the campaign is so long and grueling, that anything could happen. It really is too early to say Kaddish for McCain or pick out the new colors for Obama’s Oval Office re-design. And on top of all these personality and political factors in the mix, the economy is going to weigh ever more heavily – if current indicators continue to play out as they have been.

In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush, who once enjoyed approval ratings close to 90 percent. Clinton’s slogan was “It’s The Economy, Stupid.”

This year, barring a major terrorist attack or international blow up – it seems clear that the election will hinge yet again on that stupid economy.

If McCain cannot figure out how to respond to Americans’ distress on this issue, he is finished. But if Americans lose confidence in Obama’s ability to be a steady steward of the economy, he, too, is doomed.

Another Obama speech, another hologram

 JPost, July 6, 2008 

Barack Obama gave another eloquent, thoughtful, thought-provoking speech this week, this time Obama and his wife Michelle,...about patriotism in Independence, Missouri. Obama knew that the July 4th holiday gave him an opportunity to undo some of the damage that Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign had done to him.

But rather than being defensive, trying to prove his loyalty to America or refuting the claim that he was not-unpatriotic, Obama did what he did best. He spoke powerfully about patriotism – love of country – in a broad expansive way.

He insisted that “no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism” – a sharp elbow aimed at critics – and then explained that patriots sometimes have a duty to dissent.

But while using the words “patriotism” and “nation” repeatedly, Obama avoided using the word “nationalism.” Nationalism is a word that sophisticates hate, as they idealize the European Union’s “post-nationalism” – forgetting how potent nationalism remains in Europe. Nationalism in popular culture is too frequently connected to fanatics who love their country so much they hate fellow citizens who disagree with them.

But both Zionists and American patriots know that nationalism, like religion, can be a force for good – or for ill. Nationalism distorted and perverted ended up degenerating into Nazism. Nationalism constructively channeled created the United States of America 232 years ago, and the State of Israel more recently.

By avoiding the term, was Obama revealing his identity as part of the University of Chicago-Harvard elite who look down their noses at the little people who love their country? Or was he simply being a smart politician and using the popular term “patriotism” rather than the more complicated term “nationalism”?

To those who see Obama as an Ivy League elitist who will be too Jimmy Carteresque, this speech can become one more link in their chain of evidence. But the speech also confirmed the impressions of those who see Obama as a smart, savvy, and eloquent visionary. This is the Obama enigma – and we hope that the campaign, with its many tests, will prove clarifying.

Photo: Obama and his wife Michelle, left, cheer as they watch an Independence Day parade in Butte, Mont., Friday. AP